The Northland Regional Corrections Facility - Ngawha Prison - recorded another milestone earlier this month with the prison's first forestry training programme graduation.

The Te Uru Rakau planting work to release programme, part of a collaboration between Corrections and the Ministry for Primary Industries, involved 10 men who planted native trees in the community as part of the Government's Billion Trees initiative. They worked from 8am to 4pm a day, earning market-related wages, under escort by two Corrections Officers.

The 12-week, Level 2 Forest Industry Foundation Skills course was especially designed by NorthTec, with eight weeks of theory and four weeks' practical.

The men are now about halfway through the three-month planting project, and talks are under way about the continuation of the programme.

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Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis launched Te Uru Rakau Planting Work at Ngawha in March, with participants selected by NRCF staff. NorthTec delivered the theory component at the prison four days a week, the students undertaking additional "self-directed learning" during their spare time, course content including health and safety, hazard management, emergency procedures, health and nutrition, first aid, general forestry knowledge, working under supervision, and planting.

Having completed the theory component, the students were transported to the work site by Corrections staff, leaving the prison at 6.30am and returning by 6pm, five days a week.

They were trained by Zielinski Silviculture Contractors in the practical aspects of planting, highlighting the theory components of their training, which a NRCF spokesman said became more real to them as they began to "live and breathe the planting experience."

They had formed an "awesome" bond as a crew, and learned many things about themselves, and how to work to industry standards, while morning tool box meetings, health and safety, hazards, quality control, work and weather conditions became more real.

The students were congratulated for their efforts with a graduation ceremony at the external unit on prison grounds, where they welcomed visitors, including family members, with karakia, waiata, kōrero and a hāngī kai.