First the Minister of Employment gave Northland College a $350,000 work training scheme, then he talked hardball, and then he played gutterball.

Willie Jackson was at the low decile Kaikohe high school yesterday to announce the Northland College Pine Project, funded by a chunk of the He Poutama Rangatahi initiative.

The Pine Project training scheme will be centred on the college's forestry block, teaching life and work skills to young people who might otherwise be headed for educational failure and unemployment.

Head prefects Nakita Stirling and Clay McQueen with Employment Minister Willie Jackson. Photo/Lindy Laird
Head prefects Nakita Stirling and Clay McQueen with Employment Minister Willie Jackson. Photo/Lindy Laird

He Poutama Rangatahi is a $13.27 million fund over three years to bring alive a strategy dealing with entrenched unemployment. Northland, Eastern Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti and Hawke's Bay are the four regions targeted first.

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The minister hinted more money will come to Northland, with another announcement on June 1.

Rolling out the first scheme, Jackson was accompanied by Labour list MP Willow-Jean Prime and representatives from the ministries of Employment and Social Development.

Schools, other trainers and groups were often keen to tackle the problem of people not in education or employment but without the resources to start, Jackson said.

''We believe communities are best placed to help these young people,'' he said.

''I'm pleased to announce this funding starts here, now. The intention is not just to get young people into employment but to give them skills to carry on in the future, and that will lead to a better life.''

He did not mince his words about the need for intervention in the chain of social, education and employment challenges faced by many young people. That chain often included gangs, drugs, hopelessness and destroyed families.

Northland College students learning about the Government-funded $350,000 training programme for the school's forestry block. Photo/Lindy Laird
Northland College students learning about the Government-funded $350,000 training programme for the school's forestry block. Photo/Lindy Laird

''Let's be frank, some of them are just not ready to work,'' he said.

''We have to show patience and sensitivity because you can't just kick them off the couch.

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''If you do have to kick them off, you have to expect they might go back to the couch again, but you don't turn your back on them. You don't give up.''

Jackson also acknowledged ''the other path, the academic one'' that many students would take.

He had opened his mihi acknowledging leaders from Tai Tokerau in the Labour Government - Kelvin Davis, Peene Henare and Nanaia Mahuta, whose mother was Ngati Manu, and said Willow-Jean Prime would one day be a minister, "no doubt about it''.

''Just so you know, you young people, you're really lucky to have such outstanding leaders from Tai Tokerau.''

After his address, Jackson was offered his own skills challenge — to play a round of gutterball with head boy Clay McQueen. It would be fair to say McQueen proved a high achiever.