Yesterday marked a milestone for Northland's largest tertiary provider, NorthTec, as officials opened its new multipurpose learning and skill centre in the Whangārei CBD.
NorthTec chief executive Wayne Jackson said the idea to open facilities closer to town had been around for at least 10 years.
"The opening today is the end result of a long journey," Jackson said.
The Tai Tokerau Skills Centre Plus - Te Rua o Pūkenga moved into the three-storey unit at the corner of Bank and Cameron Sts that used to house Malletts Fashions.
With the ground floor being the main entrance and reception area, students will have a hot-desking space for digital learning on the first floor, while the second floor will be turned into a multi-media teaching space.
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As NorthTec signed the lease a mere two weeks ago, more work has to be done before the refit is completed.
The aim is to have everything up and running by July, in time for the second term. However, students can already use the facility for web-based and digital learning.
"We want this hub to be accessible to all, including after-hours and on weekends," Jackson said.
While this expansion is part of NorthTec's long-term plan to decentralise its main campus in Raumanga, the Tai Tokerau Skills Centre Plus is also a response to the Covid-19 crisis and will serve as a contact point for job hunters.
In partnership with Work Ready and People Potential, and with support from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Northland Chamber of Commerce, job seekers can complete a comprehensive skills assessment to determine whether they are ready for employment, or if they need to retrain for work in a different industry.
In July, Joblab – a collaborative project to help Northlanders into employment – will return to Whangārei with the new NorthTec hub hosting most of the associated events.
Muriel Willem from Career Focus NZ, who works with several local organisations, including Whangārei Girls' High School, to help people find pathways into employment, said accessibility was a problem in Whangārei and a having the new hub in town was a positive step.
The Tai Tokerau Skills Centre Plus is the only tertiary provider with a location in the CBD with the University of Auckland situated in Alexander St and two wānanga in Raumanga.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai hopes the hub will bring a new buzz of people into town.
"We will see people coming in here who will actively engage with nearby retailers."
In relation to Covid-19 and changes to the job market, Mai said the hub was a response to the desperation people have experienced over the past weeks.