One of New Zealand's smallest local bodies, Otorohanga, claims one of the biggest honours any community could seek in a world recession - zero youth unemployment.

The small King Country district (population 9500) has maintained zero registered unemployment of people under age 25 since November 2006.

Thanks to a unique apprentice support system and 10 other youth initiatives, it also claims a 75 per cent reduction in the number of youths caught by police in the two years after the new initiatives began in 2005.

Its achievements have caught the eyes of both Education Minister Anne Tolley and Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, who led a delegation including former All Black Michael Jones and Manukau Mayor Len Brown to see the system first-hand last month. Tindall pledged $1 million towards new youth training initiatives nationally at February's Job Summit.

Otorohanga Mayor Dale Williams, who also chairs the national Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, says the initiatives stemmed from businesses who told him, soon after he became mayor in 2004, that they would have to leave town unless they could overcome a local shortage of skilled workers.

"As a former apprentice myself, and because I like young people, I put in place a small group saying, what will make a difference?" he says.

The group convinced the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) to take a gamble - to open a trade training centre in Otorohanga that would be driven by the district's employers.

"What we do was a big step away from what polytechnics do," says Williams.

"The only courses here are designed and supported by industry locally. We write our course documents and develop our own course programmes directly to suit the needs of our employers. We partner with industry so we have jobs waiting for them."

The town also created a new half-time job of apprentice support co-ordinator. Ray Haley, who has had the job for the last two years, brings about 50 apprentices from around the district into the trade training centre for two hours each Wednesday night to help them with their workbooks, and visits them regularly to help with their practical work and "pastoral care".

"We discuss everything from girlfriends to motorbikes and all issues and problems," he says.

"I help take all that load off the bosses. I sit in on disciplinary issues. They can get me within a few hours if they need me. I'm the camp mother."

Hamish Loomans, 20, was struggling to do the books for his automotive apprenticeship at the local Nissan repair shop, Excelsior, because of dyslexia. Haley got a special tutor to work with him one-to-one at the training centre on Wednesday nights.

"I can sit down now and go through the books by myself, but get help when I get stuck," Loomans says.

Before 2005, only 40 per cent of the apprentices in the scheme achieved their milestones on time. Now 90 per cent do.