From milking cows to latte-making, practical training in solid work skills is being served up at Kaikohe's Northland College.

The trades training programme at the small co-ed secondary school, which has a working farm and a full-size professional catering kitchen that can feed 200 hungry people, is aimed at getting students ready for real-life work.

They can either find a job immediately, or go on to further specialist study in a particular career area.

The college is being rebuilt by the Ministry of Education in a $14 million upgrade due for completion this month.


The new facilities include 21 teaching spaces, a multi-purpose gym, technology area and library, as well as the kitchen.

Trades training participants (from left) Joshua O'Connor, Tanisha Wikaira-Davies, Shianne Kire and Nakeisha Ututaonga-Britton in the full-size professional catering kitchen that can feed 200 people.
Trades training participants (from left) Joshua O'Connor, Tanisha Wikaira-Davies, Shianne Kire and Nakeisha Ututaonga-Britton in the full-size professional catering kitchen that can feed 200 people.

But the principal, Jim Luders, has more in mind than just enjoying his sparkling new school. He'll be using it not only to improve academic achievement, but also to spark a revolution in the township.

Mr Luders says the brand new school offers the potential to be a turning point for the long-struggling community of Kaikohe, which has high welfare dependency and unemployment, limited work skills and low academic achievement.

The college's unique trades training teaches practical work skills to complement its academic training, and that can open doors to jobs or qualifications in fast-growing fields such as forestry, farming and hospitality, in the North and elsewhere.

All these fields are crying out for work-ready staff with the right skills and attitude.

That's where the college's working farm, forest and kitchen come in, by making graduates work-ready. The hospitality course is particularly popular, Mr Luders says.

And flat whites served up at catered events can be made from milk from the college's own cows, raised and milked on the farm by students.

The forestry and farm-related training programmes are blended, so participants get experience in both fields at NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3.


Mr Luders says such practical training helps students learn how to self-manage, and allows other learning opportunities.

"The hospitality course teaches them what employers expect from staff, such as working nights and weekends, and about customer service and working at pace."

The rebuild also includes a full-size gymnasium that is capable of expanding in length to international size, and therefore of hosting international teams on training camps.

In 2013 Mr Luders was appointed to his role as principal to rescue the school, which had substandard buildings, a collapsing roll, and low achievement levels - all well publicised in the media.

He's set himself a big challenge. But he believes the school's new buildings will be the turning point for a fresh start. "I want the new school to be a journey to the stars . . . and for students to use it to leverage opportunities to live their dreams.

"Getting young people skilled and qualified is the way ahead for this community, where in some families there's been three generations of unemployment, and ongoing benefit reliance. We must break that cycle."


The focus at the school will be on Years 9 and 10, which Mr Luders sees as the make-or-break group. "Raising literacy and numeracy levels are essential, so we will be concentrating on those foundation skills, to prepare students for the real workplace."

At present the school operates out of multiple old buildings which are aged and in poor condition, spread over its site. The new school is housed in a large single building with modern, world-class facilities.

"It's a deal breaker. We now have massive opportunities for a mindshift."

His students already have an advantage, Mr Luders believes. At the college, 97 per cent are Maori and there is high te reo proficiency amongst them. Jim sees that as a big plus.

"I can pretty much guarantee that having strong work skills, academic achievement, and speaking the reo is going to be a highly valued skills package for the future workforce.

"Tourism is growing fast in this area, and there are boundless other options in high-growth fields such as health services, agriculture and forestry, for example, and not just in the grunt work - in the other areas that support the people who use the chainsaws.


"I'm excited. The only way is up."