When Maori apprentice Danual Keig began training as a motor mechanic with Ebbett Holden, the last thing he expected was to be awarded Employee of the Year 2012 at the Wellington branch.
In fact, when he joined the company, his expectations were well below his potential: "I didn't go all the way through school and I didn't complete all my subjects. I thought I wasn't really going to be anything."
But his employer and the Motor Industry Training Organisation (MITO) saw much more in Keig. They got around the table with him and found the support he needed. He works two mornings every week, before his paid work, "getting the nails in the study" with a tutor from Literacy Aotearoa.
"Anything I need help with, he helps me. (At first) I thought I was taking it in but I wasn't fully understanding it. Now things are starting to spark."
A MITO industry training adviser also supports him through regular mentoring, goal setting and reviewing his progress with his supervisor and, if required, arranging off-job training courses.
Relationship networks have helped Keig along the way, although it hasn't been easy. When he was almost giving up on the idea of an apprenticeship and having to work outside the trade, the boss of a mate, who was also their rugby coach, rang and told him about the role at Ebbett Holden.
"He said - give it a go, so I handed in my CV, got an interview, and 50 people later I had a job."
His foreman and another workmate are also important people in Keig's workplace whanau and supported him when he was new to the job.
Keig is grateful for the opportunities MITO and Ebbett Holden have given him. He has completed two levels of his training and and says his family is very pleased with his success.
As well as the "boys with their toys kind of thing" (he is repairing a van in his spare time), Keig says he enjoys the technical side of his work, investigating problems and working out how to fix them at the source. And, "I really like to see the expressions on people's faces [when they say] 'Well how did you fix that?' It gives me a bit of a boost".
David Brown, after-sales manager, Ebbett Holden, says the company wants to surround itself with people who have a passion for what they do. "You can learn the technical side of it and the paperwork side but if you've got some drive and passion the rest is easy. During a change in the company Danual was singled out as one of the people who'd be coming with us."
Keig is one of many successful apprentices who participated in a two-year research project, which sought to identify the key factors that affect the performance of Maori learners in workplace-based training.
The research shows that a multi-pronged approach is needed to fully utilise the skills and capabilities of Maori youth entering the workforce.
Maori apprentices come from a range of backgrounds. Some enter an apprenticeship straight from school, while others enter later in life, often supporting families of their own while embarking on their formal learning journey, says MITO CEO Janet Lane. MITO and other industry training organisations (ITOs) have been implementing initiatives to address the needs of Maori learners and improve their educational outcomes. They benefit from strong relationships with their families, employers and ITOs.
"We need to draw on the power of the whanau, both in its critical role of directing youth towards particular industries as career choices, and in its invaluable support and encouragement of the learner throughout the challenge of study," says Mark Oldershaw, CEO of the Industry Training Organisation.
"We also need to better understand and make use of traditional Maori approaches to both learning and interacting."
The concept of an older person taking a younger person under his or her wing and passing on knowledge is something very central to Maori educational practices - "very similar to the European concept of mentoring," Oldershaw says.
Establishing strong and mutually respectful mentoring relationships is a key factor in the learner's success.
Modern businesses are increasingly recognising the value and importance of teamwork, and the benefits to be gained by encouraging mutual respect for the contribution of all members of staff. These concepts sit very comfortably with the Maori view of both learning and working.