For Shaun Spanhake, finding work in his small home town of Kawerau was never going to be easy.

With a population of just 3000, it can be tough for school leavers to find employment in Kawerau. But thanks to a government-backed initiative, Kawerau Pathways, he has landed a job.

"School wasn't really my thing to be honest," Spanhake said.

"I only really liked PE and metal tech. So I finished year 12 and I got this. My koro said there's this lady I could contact, then she got me involved with Tony Gardner and it all started from there. Then he found me this job."

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Spanhake is one of several success stories from the scheme, which received almost $1 million from the Provincial Growth Fund. Organisers say it's safeguarding the town's future, by helping young people enter the workforce, through apprenticeships or work experience.

"There's not a hell of a lot of jobs in Kawerau, so it's about getting them in there," Tony Gardner, co-ordinator of Kawerau Pathways, said.

"It's a brilliant way to bridge that gap between work and school. We're finding even a very qualified person could have NCEA Level 3 and come out with no job after school."

Kawerau Pathways manager Edwina O'Brien said there were gaps there for workforce for the town's future.

"What we want to do is grow the town and if we can grow these young people, put them into work or training, that will enable our future young people to come back to town, have their families, have a secure workforce and it's just the circle of life. But it's a more positive circle."

Stephanie Pivac is another young person benefiting from the scheme. With a long-term goal of becoming a nurse, Pathways has found her work experience at the local rest home.

"I have actually applied here twice, before I applied for Kawerau Pathways," she said.
"Experience was [the reason] why I couldn't get in. Now I came through Pathways I'm here, my foot's in the door and it may give me a full-time job in the future, which is cool."

Adjani Tuwairua is learning how to cook and cater. Her sister works in a restaurant and she'd like to join her. She says the scheme has given her vital experience in the industry.

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"[I] cater, make food, cook it, present it. Hopefully everyone enjoys it," Tuwairua said, who's biggest lesson is in time management.

"It's really hard to find a job in Kawerau, actually. Especially while you're young and don't have the experience. It's helping younger Māori people find jobs."

"The barrier would be travel if you need to go get training," O'Brien said.

"You do need training to get into any position within any industry. For a lot of them, they go 'well maybe that's not for me, so it's easier if I just go on the dole'.

"Another barrier is they're shy, most of our young people, 80 per cent are Māori, so unless they really know you, they won't come forward. It's getting their trust and getting their confidence."

The programme needs to find work placements for 40 cadets over the next two years, hoping to improve the work prospects of 40 young people and the economic future of Kawerau.

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