Every Central Hawke's Bay high school student aged 16 or over without a learner driver's licence will be helped to get one by the end of the year, under a new programme believed to be a first in New Zealand.
More than 120 current Year 11 and 12 students from the district's two high schools, CHB College and Te Aute College, are expected to benefit from the initiative, which is being driven by the Connecting for Youth Employment (CYE) Trust with financial support from a number of transport-reliant businesses and CHB mayor Alex Walker.
Expected to cost $12,000 to run, the programme was launched to hundreds of students from both schools last Thursday at CHB College.
Under the new programme, students born in 2001 or later will be mentored and assisted to sit their learner's licence test in exchange for a $25 donation - a substantial discount on the current cost of $93.90 to sit it, made up of a $48.20 application fee and test fee of $45.70.
Aside from the financial assistance, students who attain their learner's licence will also receive NCEA Level 2 credits.
Te Aute College year 11 student Te Ariki Norman, who will be eligible to sit his learner's next month when he turns 16, says the financial assistance is a good idea because paying $25 is "way better" than $93.
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CHB College Year 11 student Tia Cudby, 16, said some of her friends had their learner's already, and she hoped the programme would give her that "extra motivation" to join them.
"I think it will help out a lot of people and give them a push to get their licence," she said.
Though the learner's programme is new, it follows on from years of work by the trust to help young people from CHB to get their licences.
In 2014, the trust started running driver mentoring programs out of EIT's CHB Learning Centre in Waipukurau with support from Rotary, using the CHB Community Patrol vehicle for driving lessons.
The trust then set out to have driver licensing included as part of the national high school curriculum, and conducted a pilot study at CHB College in 2016 funded by the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ), which became the subject of a research paper written by Massey University.
More than 20 CHB college students were helped to get their restricted licence as part of the year-long "Steering Aotearoa" pilot programme.
"The motivation was that every employer we spoke to said that a driver's licence was the one key qualification that they were looking for when they hired a young person," said CYE director and district councillor Kelly Annand.
Following the pilot, MTFJ put forward a remit at last year's Local Government New Zealand conference calling on central government to fund an all-inclusive universal driver's licence programme for all high school students at NCEA level two, seconded by CHB mayor Alex Walker.
Annand said the current Government had indicated it would make driver licensing part of the national curriculum, but no money had been set aside in the Budget.
"We believe in it so much that we're not going to wait," said Annand.
"Every young person in high school in CHB this year will receive a learner's licence with the hope that funding will continue each year, and in 2019 expand the programme to a restricted licence."
Hatuma Lime director Aaron Topp said his company was keen to support the initiative as it would open up opportunities in the job market for the students.
"Having a licence underpins their future. Doors are closed to them unless they have one. As one of the longest-standing employers in the district, we understand that very well," he said.
Mayor Walker said CHB was possibly the first district in New Zealand to offer such a programme for all its young people at high school.
"CHB is leading the way in its youth development and we look forward to where we can take it from here," she said.