Chapter 6. Youth skills development and retention in Otorohanga, New Zealand

This chapter analyses the impacts of local leadership and consultation in the development of initiatives to address youth unemployment in Otorohanga, New Zealand. Initiatives to support youth through the transition from school to work that are examined include the introduction of local training, mentorship and pastoral care services. The chapter highlights the success of integrated local leadership among actors in government, business, faith and educational institutions to develop solutions to address specific issues in a diversified rural context.


Key findings

  • This chapter investigates the impacts of a series of initiatives spearheaded by local community leaders in the small rural New Zealand town of Otorohanga to encourage youth to undertake apprenticeships in the town’s trade sector.

  • The initiatives in Otorohanga focussed on local leadership, training guidance and pastoral care from respected figures of authority to increase the uptake, completion and retention of apprenticeships in the trades sector. Focussing on a particular industry was found to be effective in the Otorohanga context.

  • The process of enacting these apprenticeship initiatives involved addressing related issues, including the provision and proximity of off-the-job training, the status and perception of apprenticeships and vocational education, and the role of careers guidance and information in building a sustainable apprenticeship culture.

  • The evolution of the governance and funding structure for the Otorohanga youth initiatives is also examined, particularly with respect to the movement from a grassroots project towards a formal and standardised programme.


The Otorohanga youth initiative offers an interesting case study of targeted employment creation in rural New Zealand, where just a few businesses in one sector in a small town catalysed a number of projects to support local youth to enter a trades career in their home town to address a local staff and skill shortage. Youth unemployment rates in New Zealand are marginally higher than the OECD average and have become a matter of national concern (Human Rights Commission, 2014). Unemployment levels tend to be higher outside of the major urban centres, which poses significant social and economic challenges to small rural towns. Although there is a state focus on achieving a school accreditation and training certification in New Zealand, the federal government allocates less additional support to areas of need than many other OECD countries. This means that a greater onus rests with local actors to respond to local development challenges. It is in this context that this research paper presents a study of a locally instigated initiative to address youth unemployment challenges in the town of Otorohanga.

At first glance, the schemes targeting the youth of Otorohanga may appear to have been driven by youth unemployment. However, this is not the case, as unemployment levels in 2006 for this particular town were similar or even slightly better than in the rest of the nation. The true catalyst for local action was the concerns of a specific group of local businesses, which were unable to attract and retain skilled workers because young local jobseekers were failing to successfully complete the appropriate training requirements.

It is often the case that young people who have grown up in a small rural town and have come to know and appreciate the local people and the spaces are the best positioned to stay and contribute to the town’s economy and community. However, it is common for this youth cohort to leave for the cities. As in most rural towns, these youth are often obliged to do their training in the larger towns due to the availability of facilities. From there they tend not to return, as they discover other lifestyles and other job opportunities.

Within a nation with an aging population, this urban drift of youth compounds the demographic challenges in small rural towns, which may in turn affect the town’s long-term economic viability. In the small town of Otorohanga, there was a need to address skills shortages in the local technical trades industry while also ensuring that local youth were aware of local opportunities, supported in their career development and willing to stay in the town. This led to the establishment of a series of initiatives that nurtured young workers to stay and to thrive at home. This in turn helped to build sustainable local industry that was confident of a continued supply of skilled labour.

For other OECD countries with small rural towns facing similar challenges, this case offers a vision of how the local businesses can address their staff and training needs. The experiences of Otorohanga found that while skills and work readiness training were important facets of the programme, it was also critical to incorporate tuition and pastoral care to facilitate communication with business owners. Personalised care should be tailored to suit the local stakeholders and should be provided by a local person with a deep understanding of the community and the industry.

This Chapter outlines the rationale and context for the youth employment initiative from the national and local perspective, before detailing and assessing the actual interventions which were undertaken. The paper concludes with an overview of the key lessons which can be derived from the experience.

Policy context

New Zealand is a small upper-income country in the South Pacific. It has a relatively small population estimated at 4 659 287 in 2015 (Stats NZ, 2016). The New Zealand economy is dominated by the service sector, but is well integrated into global market networks and also heavily relies upon the export of primary and agricultural produce. Consequently, the country has a strong and labour-intensive rural/agricultural sector. The performance of this sector in recent years has stabilised rural populations in many parts of the country and driven demand for specific technical skills in rural areas and the service centres scattered across them. Otorohanga is one such service centre that has close links with the agricultural activities in its hinterland.

In 2015, the national unemployment rate was 5.3%, while the Labour Force Participation Rate stood at 68.4%. The working population was estimated to be 3 656 000 while those in employment stood at 2 369 000 and the numbers unemployed being 133 000 (Stats NZ, 2016). It is important to note that according to Stats NZ one of the reasons for the low unemployment rate is the falling labour participation rate which hints at changes in the employment patterns within the country. The youth unemployment (defined as the 15-24 year old cohort) rate in 2015 was 10.9%, more than double the national average. The unemployment rate among women aged 15-24 is even higher, at 12.6%. Equally concerning are ethnic difference in the unemployment rate, with Maori and Pacific youth having experienced more rapid growth in the rate of unemployment. In 2011, the national unemployment rate in the 15-25 year bracket was 17% for Maori youth, 14.5% for Pacific and 8.2% for European (Human Rights Commission, 2014). In spatial terms, across all age brackets, rural unemployment is often higher (6.9% in the case of the rural province of Gisborne) compared to the larger urban centres (3.9% in Christchurch) (Stats NZ, 2016b).

Youth unemployment has been recognised as being a particular challenge by the national government, particularly because the New Zealand NEET rate (Not in Employment, Education and Training) for the 15-24 year old cohort was 12.5% in 2011, slightly higher than the then OECD average of 12.2%. The situation has deteriorated since 2008 when an OECD report noted that the New Zealand youth unemployment rate was 5% lower than the OECD average in 2006 (OECD, 2008). This concern was identified by the New Zealand Department of Labour (DOL) which noted that these young people are ‘disengaging both from formal learning and work, and as such, are considered to be missing the opportunity to develop their potential at an age that heavily influences future outcomes’ (Human Rights Commission, 2014). Also there is concern, as noted above, about the over-representation of young Maori and Pacific youth in the unemployment rates. The reasons for disengagement from employment and education are varied and include those who have low educational attainment levels, those who have been obliged to become young carers, the inter-generational impact of poor parenting, low social-economic status, offenders, drug/substance misusers and those with emotional and behavioural difficulties (Human Rights Commission, 2014). The increase in youth unemployment is in part due to the global financial crisis according to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission has called youth unemployment a “ticking time bomb”, while the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has noted that “youth unemployment is an unacceptable problem and is critically embarrassing for New Zealand” (HRC 2014).

The challenges of youth employment and unemployment in the country are exacerbated changes in industrial relations law that have weakened protection measures for youth employment (NZ Government 2015 budget). This may have contributed to the fact that 40% of youth now being engaged in part-time employment. In addition, this cohort experiences very high employment turnover in comparison with the general population (Stats NZ, 2013) (see Figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1. Worker turn-over rates by age group, 2000-14

Source: Statistics New Zealand (2013a).

The high levels of youth unemployment have been recognised by social agencies as a significant national concern. The Methodist Mission have noted that one third of youth in some districts being unemployed is an issue that “needs urgent attention” (ODT, 8 August 2011).

Figure 6.2 indicates the differences in the NEET rate between 15-19 year olds compared with 20-24 year old. The high rate in the latter sub-cohort is of particular concern as is the slow upward trajectory of the results.

Figure 6.2. New Zealand NEET rates by age group, 2005-15

Source: OECD (2017).

The situation in Otorohanga

Prior to the launch of the local initiatives in 2005, the Otorohanga region was facing similar problems with employment as the rest of the country. The general 15 years and over unemployment rate in Otorohanga town was 5.5% in 2001 prior to the establishment of the programmes, which was relatively favourable compared to 7.5% in the rest of New Zealand at the time. In 2006 the unemployment rate in the town fell to 4.3% but rose to 9.9% in 2013, which was higher than the national unemployment level of 5.3% in 2015 (Stats NZ, 2001, 2006, 2013b, 2016). These changes are reflective of broader shifts in the regional economy as the fortunes of farming have waxed and waned. In 2004, the businesses of Otorohanga highlighted a specific skill shortage of apprentices in the trades which encouraged a local response targeted at youth. The subsequent upward trend in unemployment is in an indication that the resulting programme was more focused on creating youth jobs in one specific sector rather than in the creation of large numbers of jobs across all age cohorts. Unfortunately recent data on youth unemployment is not available at the sub-regional level, making it difficult to both gauge the severity of current local youth unemployment and the degree to which the interventions may have impacted on that rate.

Otorohanga is a small rural service town of 2 589 people and is part of a wider rural municipal district of 91 380. In the wider municipal district, there was a small increase in population of 1% between the 2006 and 2013 census counts, and 27.2% of the population identify as Maori compared to a national average of 14.9% (StatsNZ, Census 2013). The only other small town in the Otorohanga district is the very small coastal village of Kawhia with a population of only 390 which is decreasing sharply, while the rest of the district population reside in rural areas (Stats NZ, 2013b). The nearby Waitomo caves in a neighbouring district provide some passing tourism traffic to the town and offer some opportunities for employment in hospitality and tourism. The natural pull for young people in recent years, has been to leave the rural districts and relocate to the nearby provincial city of Hamilton. Hamilton hosts numerous high schools, Waikato University and The Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec), and its satellite town of Cambridge offers specialist high school subjects such as physics and therefore is attractive to higher achieving youth. The Waikato regional council is composed of 10 district councils, of which Otorohanga district is one, and encompasses the city council of Hamilton.

The economy of the Otorohanga district is based on rural activities. Both the 2006 and 2013 censuses showed that the majority of people were employed in agriculture. In 2006, 1 060 people or 32.2% of people were employed by the agricultural sector, in comparison the national average of 5.7% (Stats NZ, 2006, 2013b). However, despite the dominance of the agricultural and particularly the dairy industry of Otorohanga, the youth scheme was driven by the requests of businesses in the automotive and engineering fields that were experiencing skills and staff shortages. After the agricultural industry, census statistics indicate that the services sector is the second highest employer as 15% of the population are employed in public administration and safety, followed by similar percentages in manufacturing, education/training and retail. The most commonly recorded occupation group was listed in the census was “managers” at 33% compared to the New Zealand average of 18%, but there are fewer people listing their occupation as “professional” than the national average. This could reflect the number of small businesses and franchises that require managers in this small town. The next most common listed occupations were machinery operators, drivers and labourers.

The largest single employers in the town are the lime quarry, which employs about 100 people, and farm supply shops. One farm supply shop that sells large farm-machinery and employs over 75 workers was one of the key businesses that originally indicated its difficulty in finding people with trade qualifications willing to relocate to the town. This business owner was also the individual most willing to work with the project.

Other key businesses in the town include an engineering firm that employs about 80 staff, some large rural freight companies, including one that employs 50-80 people, and some smaller construction businesses focusing on farm buildings. There are also three rural accounting firms that cater to the accounting needs of the surrounding rural population, including one that employs about 50 staff and has a relationship with the local school to assist with advertising and the employment of school leavers. However, the accounting industry was not targeted by the youth employment initiatives detailed below. The town also has retail activities typical of a rural service town including some fast food franchises and general stores. Otorohanga has one high school with 353 pupils in 2015, 191 of whom identify as Maori; the school also includes a boarding school which tends to attract the children of families from the neighbouring beach town of Kawhia where unemployment is very high (Source: based on interviews with the local apprentice support tutor, the Otorhanga youth projects facilitator and former Mayor, the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator and others.)

Pre-programme employment support

Prior to the commencement of the local initiatives detailed in this paper, only national programmes were implemented in Otorohanga. These included nationally available programmes such as apprenticeship support provided by the national Industry Trading Organisation’s (ITO) and schemes that support the tracking of school leavers and ensure that secondary education matched the needs of employers. These schemes are detailed below.

The state was also conducting other programmes in the wider municipal region, including the establishment of the Waikato Institute of Technology’s (Wintec) Polytechnic course in the provincial city of Hamilton. This course develops entry-level skills in the engineering and automotive trade and the completion of the course is a prerequisite for applying for an apprenticeship. Wintec also offers courses in basic skills for working as a trades labourer. It was noted by local stakeholders that youth who had completed training in Hamilton were attracted by the lifestyle and employment opportunities and tended not to move back to rural towns.

The New Zealand Government also has a number of broad initiatives to assist youth and provide better support and pathways into post-school education, training or career development (Treasury New Zealand, 2011). Some New Zealand training academies allow students study in the workplace while still enrolled in secondary school. These programmes include the school-based Gateway and STAR programmes (see below for details). The Otorohanga College had both of these programmes in 2004 and followed the Pathways programme where all classes in the school are introduced to one of six career path ways. Prior to 2004, the college also had a part-time careers advisor position and held annual careers days that involved presentations from town businesses and several one day work experience visits to local businesses (Source: based on an interview with the Otorohanga college careers advisor).

The Ministry of Social Development also established a Youth Services unit in August 2012 to provide support to connect NEET youth to employment or training opportunities. This Unit predominately contracts to regional community agencies to provide personalised career services to school leavers, who are then followed up every six months to see how they are progressing through training or employment ( (Source: based on an interview with the MSD Youth Services Unit). In Otorohanga, this service was implemented by a community agency that also helped the larger region.

In summary, national programmes designed to address youth unemployment include:

  • Youth Guarantee (Youth Guarantee New Zealand, no date) is a programme run by the Ministry of Education that is designed to reduce the number of youth in the NEET bracket. The methodology was developed in 2010 and has been implemented since 2013. One programme is called Achievement, Retention and Transition (ART) and tracks the career paths and training progress of school pupils and consenting school leavers in a centralised data base. Should concerns arise, a regional agent of education services will contact the participant to suggest education options, or regional agencies sub-contracted by the Ministry of Social Development may advise the participant of other possible activities. If the youth are NEET, they also qualify for courses funded by the government’s Youth Guarantee programme.

  • Under the Youth Guarantee scheme, the STAR programme makes funding available to schools to provide targeted and job-related short training courses. This also gives some flexibility to secondary education providers to address workplace requirements. An extension of the STAR Programme is the Gateway Programme, which is designed to link school-leavers to workplace and tertiary learning opportunities, including through work experience one day per week.

  • The Modern Apprenticeship Scheme was a subsidised apprenticeship for youth aged 16‐21, with four support visits made to the trainees per annum. This programme was phased out and replaced by the full adult scheme in 2015 with funding attached to obtaining credits (NZ Government, 2013).

  • The recognition of vocational learning experiences in the National Qualifications Framework system.

  • The Mayor’s Task Force for Jobs (MTFFJs) was set up to encourage Mayors across N.Z. to engage with local businesses and education providers to reduce youth unemployment levels and the Otorohanga Mayor was a member. The Otorohanga initiative however occurred independently from this group, though the project certainly inspired the MTFFJs with the facilitator eventually becoming the chair of the MTFF’s in 2008 (Source: based on an interview with the Otorohanga youth projects facilitator and former Mayor).

Currently NZ Apprenticeship training is open to all ages and is co-ordinated throughout New Zealand by national Industry Training Organisations (ITOs). Each ITO designs apprenticeship training to meet the training requirements of specific industries. They also provide training packages that include block courses, correspondence assignments, on-line learning, exams, tutoring and pastoral care, which may necessitate attending a regional centre. The apprenticeship is partially subsidised by the state, but trainees or their employer must pay course-related costs and the ITO fee (NZ Government, 2016). However in Otorohanga, some trainees had learning or personal difficulties that affected their training and work life. Local stakeholders found that pastoral care provided from a distant regional centre was unable to address these issues. The result was a low rate of completion of apprenticeships in Otorohanga in 2004.

While systems of youth support were in place at the national level, the OECD (2008) found that “current labour market policies do not easily reach young people who have disengaged from school at an early age and are not entitled to welfare support”. The OECD report goes on to note that “New Zealand presently devotes considerable efforts to trying to overcome this difficulty. However, co-ordination between the national and the community levels requires further fine tuning.” It is in this context that the Otorohanga initiative sought to address the needs of both local youth and business in the town.

Local governance considerations prior to the programme being established

Prior to the initiation of the programme, the various forms of governance in the town did not directly interface or collaborate on youth related issues. The town council functioned independently of the school system, while economic development policy was focused on an industrial park and a “Kiwiana” themed programme to promote the town. Youth initiatives from social actors such as the local church were not directly integrated into these processes.

Liaison regarding youth employment did not include local businesses. The local high school did adapt their school training to national industry training needs via the Star and Gateway programmes, but local business liaison was outside of the ambit of the programme. Similarly, regional bodies such as the Industry Training Organisations (ITO’s) apprenticeship programmes and the local trades training initiatives were based in the provincial cities and did not provide local or specialised assistance to Otorohanga.

This was the environment and context in which a new initiative to address the local businesses needs for youth skills emerged in 2005.

Description of the initiative


The launch of the local initiative was catalysed by a series of local events, not all of which were directly associated with youth employment. In 2004, Otorohanga experienced several youth social issues, including two suicides and fighting at the local boarding school. This raised community concerns about the need to ensure that the social and economic well-being of local youth could be enhanced through the provision of support and training. In parallel, local business owners in Otorohanga’s mechanical and engineering fields expressed their frustration at not being able to obtain qualified staff or successful apprentices. This and the need to address broader youth concerns inspired the newly elected mayor to make some enquiries to personally facilitate the search for a solution, which subsequently led to the eight projects detailed below.

A critical factor in the success of this facilitation was that it was personally enacted by this new mayor who had himself done his apprenticeship in automotive trades and had his own small local business selling farm bikes. He therefore had a personal knowledge and shared interest with the relevant businesses and the issues and challenges faced by youth training in this field. This perspective and his local connections enabled him to speak frankly with the local business owners and obtain their trust to create solutions that could increase the availability and training of local staff.

The mayor also did not fit the persona of a typical rural mayor due to his personal dynamism. He was prepared to highlight issues and proposed solutions in the media, including via “Ted Talks” published online. This public persona and the resulting initiatives helped to promote Otorohanga as a town with “zero youth unemployment”, which may have helped to attract other New Zealanders to the town. The Mayor also helped to inspire others, including the principal of the local high school and a local church, to become involved in broader youth related activities. His role as mayor also allowed him to liaise with the Waikato Training Institute, which set up a local branch in the town to help facilitate training, and other government stakeholders in 2005. In 2008, his efforts in addressing youth employment issues resulted in his election as the chairperson of the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs, a national network of Mayors that aimed to address youth employment issues.

Local leadership in a number of different institutions was crucial to the successful implementation of the initiatives. For example, a local trainer in the quarry industry was prepared to tutor and mentor trades people and undertook further training as an adult educator. He earned the nickname of “camp mother” by gaining the trust of the youth, which allowed him to offer support if they had personal issues. In addition, a local businessman in the farm equipment retail business was very proactive in supporting and co-facilitating the initiative, while also busy running his growing business. There were also two church social workers who were able to convince their church to set-up and host a youth “drop-in” centre to support their work with the youth in the community. Finally there was the goodwill of the school which managed to develop an effective relationship with the Mayor’s newly facilitated team while struggling with the issue of running a school in a rural community with a large low income population.

In summary, the initiative emerged from the engagement and mutual, albeit informal, co-operation between key partners. There was also close liaison with the principal of the local school and the eventual involvement of Wintec which set up an Otorohanga satellite centre for their pre-trades training course to remove the requirement to travel to Hamilton.

Early discussions which led to the design of the programme

The Mayor began by having discussions with the local businesses which utilised automotive and mechanical trades to understand the nature of the employment, training, recruitment and retention blockages. Not all businesses were willing to discuss matters with him and he emphasised collaboration with businesses who wanted an input into the proposed programme. Ultimately, only six businesses were engaged in the initial project discussions, although over thirty now have young employees who receive pastoral care.

The discussion undertaken established that youth from the small town did indeed want to work in the trades in their home town, but were faced with two difficult options. One was to move to the nearest provincial city of Hamilton to complete the pre-trades training course offered by the Wintec. However, exposure to Hamilton’s city lifestyle and job opportunities meant they tended not to return to their home town. Or, alternatively, youth who were accepted into apprenticeships in local home town businesses often failed to complete their obligations to the ITO due to the cost of tutoring and travel to attend block courses in Hamilton. Both apprentices and trade labourers also found that, on occasion, they had personal challenges that affected their workplace performance and could lead to them losing or leaving their jobs. Youth were also often unaware of which local businesses were offering employment in the trades. Businesses also noted that skilled migrant workers and their families tended not to settle well into the small rural town environment of Otorohanga and often returned to the larger cities. As a result, youth who had grown up in the town were seen as more likely to stay long term if they could be successfully trained locally (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor, Otorohanga youth projects facilitator and Mayor and a local Otorohanga businessman and member of the current ODDB).

Programme objective

From the beginning, the programme was organised informally, which created a high level of good-will among the small team of stakeholders from local business, local government, the church and the school. Publicity around the eventual Otorohanga Youth Programme refers to it achieving “zero youth unemployment”, but the core focus of the programme was to offer encouragement and support to ensure local youth could be successful in accessing and holding local jobs in the automotive and mechanical trades. (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor, Otorohanga youth projects facilitator and former Mayor, the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator and a local Otorohanga businessman and member of the current ODDB). The projects undertaken have been successful in meeting this aim.


From these early discussions, eight projects were identified and established to meet the needs of the youth (Source: based on interviews with the Otorohanga College careers advisor, a representative of Otorohanga Wintec hub and others.)

  • A local tutor began to offer evening apprenticeship tuition classes to offer trainees pastoral support and assistance with managing their ITO correspondence paper work assignments during their firm placement. This helped to address any personal issues that may be affecting the youths’ work life, and also enabled business owners to identify and resolve any employment challenges. The apprentice tutor was previously a trainer at the quarry and did additional training in supporting adults with learning difficulties. The tutor also offered work-based pastoral care informally to other youth who had graduated from the new Wintec Otorohanga pre-trades course and now work locally as trade labourers. He also separately offers year-long training in quarry management and day courses in forklift driving.

  • A youth “drop-in” centre and holiday programme were established at a church venue called the Harvest centre, which also runs a programme to mentor youth two days per week.

  • The same church group also tracked the progress of local school leavers to ensure that they were able to access training or work opportunities. This tracking programme is called MPOWA.

  • The church also set up a part-time position called the “College Community Mentor” to personally liaise with the high school and these various community opportunities. This was in addition to the college’s existing part-time careers advisor.

  • Wintec, a Hamilton based trade training intuition, decided to establish a branch of their training institution in Otorohanga to offer entry level courses, including a 10 month course in the engineering and automotive trades, as well as courses in business administration, computing and horticulture. The pre-trades course is a prerequisite for acceptance into an apprenticeship and assists youth to enter the trades industry directly as labourers.

  • The Mayor also had an annual celebration for graduates of apprenticeships to provide a sense of achievement and community support to the youth involved.

  • The apprentice tutor also works with the local school careers advisor in running an annual careers fair. This originally involved presentations from businesses to the school and a series of one day work experiences, but has now evolved to the youth spending a full week of work experience at a local business of their choice and then a second week at an alternative local business.

  • One of the local businessmen also produces a brochure detailing the local Otorohanga businesses offering youth employment opportunities in the trades.

Governance Framework

As noted above, this initiative was initially very informal, and the project never acquired a name other than the “Otorohanga Youth Projects”. The initial discussions were private and were only conducted with parties interested in the trades or youth and willing to be involved. This included six businesses which utilised the trades and who were willing to discuss the issue. This privacy allowed people to express their views and concerns honestly and openly and to express their level of interest in personally implementing actions. Discussions with youth regarding their needs were also held on a largely individual basis.

The smallness of the town allowed the various parties to easily identify each other, and the informal nature allowed individuals to get involved only if they wished. While key role-players interacted regularly, the projects or responses were either implemented independently, which allowed them to maintain their autonomy, or with just two parties working together, such as the careers fair or work experience. It is notable that the projects were all established and funded within a short time frame, probably due to the autonomy of the actors.

Ultimately the Mayor acted as the facilitator to personally link and unify the different processes. His background as both an ex-apprentice and as a small businessman who hired youth in the trades was critical as it gave him insight and helped to build the trust of the participants. His authority as mayor also helped the projects achieve quick access to government funding and engagement with external institutions such as the Wintec. His outgoing personality also ensured that the project gained the attention of the nation and changed the perception and reputation of the town.

Concerns emerged over time regarding the longevity of the programme and if it should remain informal, particularly when it was centred on a single individual. When the Mayor decided not to stand for re-election in 2013, he put in place the current formal mechanism to create joint oversight and governance for the programme. He established the Otorohanga District Development Board (ODDB) where representatives of council, business and local interest groups were able to oversee the programme and any forthcoming projects. The board is chaired by the new mayor, a young dairy farmer who had been actively encouraged by the previous mayor to undertake the role. The board promotes the youth employment projects in the Otorohanga town promotion material.

The new ODDB is also considering whether other sectors, such as the substantial dairy sector, should also develop initiatives to meet their youth employment needs. It also seeking to identify opportunities for young women, who have not benefitted from support to the trades industry to the same degree as young men (Source: based on interviews with an Otorohanga businessman and current member of the ODDB, and the current chair of the ODDB and current mayor of Otorohanga). To date, the implementation appears relatively slow with respect to these new foci and the trade brochure has not been updated in recent years.

The ODDB has commissioned several reviews of the Otorohanga youth projects to assess their effectiveness and determine future support priorities, given the reduction in state funding discussed below. The ODDB has sought to solely focus on economic development, which has resulted in the cancellation of funding for social projects such as Harvest drop-in centre. The Centre is now seeking alternative resourcing. The audits, while appreciated for their insight, have led to a situation in which some parties have a sense of being underappreciated. This has had a negative effect and has required parties to rebuild co-operative relations and regain their confidence to carry on their activities independently. The projects that are still under the ODDB umbrella have found it challenging to operate without any input into their own fundraising, as operators do not participate in the ODDB’s decision making or fundraising processes.

Formalising the governance process has changed the dynamics of the scheme and has resulted in a loss in direct engagement of independent actors in the town. There is a need to incorporate some of the earlier private and informal aspects if the ODDB wishes to engage independent parties in a new sector or new activities.


In 2006, the mayor’s charisma and position gave institutional weight to a proposal to the NZ Ministry of Social Development to fund the apprenticeship support tutor’s part time position for three years to the tune of NZD 60 000 per annum. Funding for additional years was obtained from eight other funding sources including two local businesses, two councils, Wintec, the college, the ODDB and the North King Country Development Trust (no date) which receives electricity power board payments for economic development distribution. The Mayor also secured additional funding of over NZD 70 000 from the Ministry of Youth Development and the Ministry of Social Development to cover the costs of the three part time positions including the College Community Mentor and two staff at the Harvest Centre’s youth ‘drop in’ programme. The donations also funded four years of the MPOWA tracking programme to follow the progress of the college’s 80 school leavers per annum and ensure that they had appropriate support for their training plans or new job positions. This programme was implemented as a localised, smaller version of a larger regional tracking programme.

In 2012, the funding from the Ministry of Youth Development and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) was reduced and redistributed to initiatives in two neighbouring small towns. The remainder of the funding was transferred to the ODDB for distribution. In 2014, further government funding was cancelled and the ODDB has noted that all residual finances will be exhausted by June 2016. Thus, while the ODDB continues to fund tutoring services, it no longer funds social projects not the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator position.

The NZ Government’s MSD Youth Services contract for tracking NEET youth in the district has now been allocated to another community trust in a neighbouring small town, which offers dairy and forestry industry training to disengaged, often Maori, youth. This tracking programme operates in a similar manner to MPOWA and liaises with youth and local businesses. This new contractor tends to focus on rural school leavers but supports the voluntary work of MPOWA with urban Otorohanga youth. The NZ government’s Ministry of Social Development is expected to continue funding district wide community groups to undertake the tracking and advising of school leavers via its Youth Services unit.

Alongside the one off grants from two local businesses, individual businesses now contribute financially to the apprentice tutor position, which charges a fee to the local businesses of NZD 250 per annum per apprentice. However businesses are often reluctant to pay as they view the apprentice as the beneficiary of the service and note that they already pay a pastoral care levy to their national ITO apprenticeship provider for regional support. Reluctant businesses can apply for a grant from the ODDB to defray the cost. Other businesses are willing to pay the cost but bond the apprentice so they must repay their host business if they leave before completing two full years of their position after attaining the qualification. The full cost of covering the apprentice tutor’s costs would be approximately NZD 1 000 per apprentice per annum. The tutor has indicated that this level of support would be unacceptable to local businesses. Nationally, ITO apprentice support continues as previously with block and on-line courses and support available in major rural centres.

The tutor also operates other employment support programmes in the Otorohanga trades which are fully funded by the businesses that benefit from this employee support. This includes year-long training of supervisors at the local lime quarry, which employs approximately 100 workers, and one day courses in forklift operation for the transportation companies. The quarry workers also receive work based pastoral care, although this aspect is unfunded.

The local secondary college has cancelled the college community co-ordinator role after the funding ceased and replaced the position with a school counsellor and the existing part-time careers advisor position. The careers fair and work experience done in conjunction with the apprentice tutor has recommenced. The funding for the Wintec Otorohanga Regional Hub is secure as a high priority under the NZ government’s “achieving education outcomes” policy focus. Wintec is independently governed from its Hamilton campus, but workplace support for Wintec graduates after employment is only available through the apprentice tutor’s pastoral care programme, which is unfunded for non-apprentices and relies on his goodwill.

Results achieved and key outcomes

Addressing local “trade industry” youth employment

In 2015, the apprentice support tutor offered support to a total of 72 apprentices undertaking their 3-4 year apprenticeship. Approximately 35 of these apprentices required intensive support, with some struggling with literacy and numeracy issues. Tutoring for those that require intensive support includes assistance with completing their apprenticeship papers one evening a week and personalised support on issues that may affect their employment. The remaining 37 apprentices are able to access assistance upon request. In the past, tutoring support has at times also been offered to apprentices in other trades such as building, electrical and plumbing. The tutor is in regular contact with over 30 local businesses in the automotive and engineering trades, and another 20 businesses in other trades, including quarrying. These visits enable businesses to communicate any concerns they have about their young workers and also allow the tutor to offer support to apprentices and informal assistance to graduates of the pre-trades course who now work as labourers. The apprentice support tutor noted that social issues and often need to be addressed alongside formal training issues, as these affect the young person’s ability to stay in a job for the long-term.

This includes issues such as:

  • Partner, family or social relationships;

  • Illegal acts outside of work;

  • Substance use;

  • Mental and physical health issues.

These issues can affect the performance and dynamics of a young person’s experience in the workplace. The tutor felt that social issues could not be separated from the economic issue of job development (Source: based on an interview with the apprentice support tutor).

Very early on in the programme, both apprentices and businesses noted that the trades tutor’s more personalised and localised support had increased apprenticeship completion rate to about 90%, compared to the previous 34% completion rate under solely the traditional ITO apprenticeship scheme (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor and the youth projects facilitator and former mayor). Both the tracking programme and pre‐trades training course also report that most youth who complete their apprenticeship stayed in employment long-term, with most graduates of the Wintec pre-trade training going into employment as either labourers or semi-skilled staff or entering trade apprenticeships or further education. However, about 40% of the Wintec pre-trades course applicants do not complete the course, probably due to youth discovering they are not suited to this particular career path (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor, the Otorohanga youth projects facilitator and former mayor, the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator and a representative from the Otorohanga Wintec hub).

Another economic success occurred when one business that participated in the scheme noted that the support assisted him to grow his business by 450% over nine years by opening branches in the tourism city of Rotorua and a small town outside the city of Hamilton called Cambridge. Though this business owner noted that the key catalyst for this growth was his attendance at an entrepreneurial growth workshop in Auckland, he does credit the Otorohanga training programme and apprenticeship tuition support as the reason that he is able to find sufficient staff to achieve this level of growth. He also indicated that he uses Otorohanga as his base for training new staff (Source: based on an interview with an Otorohanga businessman, member of the Otorohanga Youth Projects and the current ODDB).

The establishment of a regional branch of Wintec in Otorohanga, which offered an early entry course for the automotive and engineering trades, attracted 8-10 local youth per course. This programme successfully feeds most graduates into the apprenticeship programmes or employment, usually as labourers or semi-qualified staff. The number of course places is very similar to the job capacity in the local town (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor and a representative of the Otorohanga Wintec hub).

In the cases outlined above, the initial objective of encouraging and enabling the success of local youth in accessing local jobs in the automotive and mechanical trades was successful. This in turn benefits the local economy. Further initiatives could attempt to broadly consider ‘general’ youth employment, instead of predominately focussing on the trades.

Addressing non-trades local youth employment

The new careers day organised by a partnership between the school and the trades tutor was particularly successful at placing youth into local jobs other than the trades. The lengthened career programme involved the expansion of the work experience programme in 2015 to one full week at each of two local businesses of the high school student’s choice (ranging from fast food franchises to a lawyer’s office). This was successful in introducing the businesses to the locally available youth and the youth to the local businesses. This model was seen as preferable to the previous one day opportunity for businesses to display their options at the local school which was preceded by a single day of work experience, often outside of the district (Source: based on interviews with the apprentice support tutor and the Otorohanga College careers advisor).

The position of college community co-ordinator (a position based in the local secondary school to link the students with community resources) was initially successful because the first worker was able to gain the trust of the students due to a previous sports-related role. The college co-ordinator then worked with individual students to introduce them to local employment, post-school training and social development options. Subsequent staff in that role had less rapport with students and when funding from the Ministry of Youth Development ceased, the position was replaced by a school counsellor contracted to visit the school 2 days a week to manage social issues. The school also continues to have a careers advisor (Source: based on interviews with the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator and the Otorohanga College careers advisor).

The MPOWA tracking programme is a service available to all graduates of Otorohanga college. MPOWA currently have 160-180 youth on their books who they are in regular touch with. They successfully offer advice on how to attain placements in occupations such as the Navy, Army and nursing and assist in job applications i.e. to local dairy and retail opportunities. Any young people who are interested in the trades are referred to the apprentice tutor. This has assisted in a number of general employment and training placements, although not always in the local area (Source: based on an interview with the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator). Recent changes have seen this contract going to Ngati Maniapoto Marae Pact Trust who offer services to a wide rural area. They however greatly appreciate MPOWA’s local knowledge and support, particularly to the more urban township area of Otorohanga and utilise this now voluntary service (Source: based on an interview with the Maniapoto tracking co-ordinator).

The local dairy and forestry industry are not participants in the facilitation work of the Otorohanga youth employment projects or the ODDB. There are two regional dairy farm training providers, including the National Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre based in the nearby rural town of Putaruru, and the Maori operated Maniapoto Training Agency in the nearby rural town of Te Kuiti. The Maniapoto Training Agency offers farm and forestry training for disengaged youth on the trust’s Maori land based farms and also provides transport to Otorohanga students. This group has also been awarded the youth services contract to track the progress of local young people.

Both the Taratahi and Maniapoto training projects have helped the youth to access the dairy industry, which employs 35% of Otorohanga’s working population. The Maniapoto Trust also works with businesses to ensure that graduates are well matched with empathetic employers. They often place workers on farms in groups of three to give them a degree of empowerment and mitigate isolation. The dairy tutor also voluntarily follows up with the youth once they enter employment and the new employer. Farms with a poor reputation for employee conditions are not referred to graduates (Source: based on an interview with the Maniapoto Trust dairy support tutor). This type of informal support to training graduates appears to be the current state of pastoral care and employer support in the local dairy sector. While there has been a wider national push to improve conditions for dairy workers, there have been no specific programmes to improve work placement completion rates in the dairy industry.

MPOWA, which works with the non-trades youth, have not been required to undertake industry visits and discussions to see how local jobs for young people could be attracted or retained. They prefer to work with individual young people and individual employers (Source: based on an interview with the MPOWA tracking co-ordinator). The Maniapoto Trust, the current provider of local tracking services for young people, also note that providing individualised advice to young people is time-consuming and that they are unable to provide additional resources to developing opportunities for young people in specific industries. They also lack specific industry connections, with the exception of their parent Trust’s expertise in the dairy industry (Source: based on an interview with the Maniapoto Trust tracking co-ordinator).

While general youth employment jobs and training programmes were well implemented in Otorohanga, the unavailability of data on regional youth unemployment rates makes it difficult to assess the quantitative benefits of the initiatives. However, in 2013 the overall unemployment rate in Otorohanga was 9.9% (Stats NZ 2013b), which is higher than the national average of 5.3% (Stats NZ, 2016) and has increased alongside the implementation of the programmes. This indicates that the programmes may have been unsuccessful in reducing youth unemployment, or that young people are being hired at the expense of older jobseekers. However, while the initiatives may not have had a discernible effect on the unemployment rate in Otorohanga, the programmes that focussed on improving training and employment options for young people in the trades sector was successful in promoting long-term apprenticeship success and facilitating business growth.

Current challenges and weaknesses of the programmes

The focus of the programme was on the trades sector, as the key actors in the scheme were from this sector. However, the needs of other sectors, particularly industries that are attractive to women such as the hospitality or accounting industry, were not addressed. Similarly, the dairy industry was not included in the initiatives, despite being the largest employer in the town. To address this, the ODDB is considering liaising with businesses in other sectors that have the potential to sustainably employ rural youth. These businesses should have the time and passion to boost skills in the industry and the ability to offer pastoral care and appropriate support to young people.

There also arose an issue of succession for the initiatives as initial stakeholders moved away from their original positions. Although the ODDB was established to replace the initial informal organisation of the participants and evaluate and fund some projects, the evaluation and critique of projects left some participants feeling underappreciated. This was compounded by the board’s removal of previous key individuals from the decision-making process and direct engagement in applications for funding. Since then, the formalisation and implementation of new initiatives has slowed. The informal collective of actors from a small town industry may be the more effective method of building trust with the relevant stakeholders.

State funding for the scheme was short-term and the government subsequently withdrew its support from the social and support aspects of the programme. This has negatively affected the local programme. The NZ’s government current policy focus on improving qualification outcomes and discouraging youth from entering the NEET criteria (Ministry of Education, 2014) has resulted in the reallocation of funding towards Wintec style training rather than localised pastoral support of youth in apprenticeships or in the workplace.

In addition, the national policy may encourage youth to remain in the school system or to move from one training option to another, rather than seeking long term employment placements. In Otorohnaga this issues has been partially addressed through the pre-trades course, which is a prerequisite for apprenticeships. While placement in the pre-trades course is guaranteed and is fully state-funded if the youth fits the criteria, applicants are interviewed by the tutor to assess their suitability. Tracking of youth vocational outcomes has determined that this has led to a higher number of Wintec graduates moving into trade employment. However, the tracking programme also established that a number of course participants rotated into other courses, often as a time filler while their first choice was not available.

Funding and responsibility for the provision of pastoral care in the workplace is often allocated to regional bodies such as the nationally based ITOs for apprentices or nationally funded school leaver tracking programmes called “Youth Services”, which started in August 2012. Youth Services funds are allocated to various community organisations in regions. However these regional bodies often struggle to provide individualised pastoral care to small local business and youth staff in rural towns, due to their need to cover a wider area or a wide range of professions.

A clear success of the local initiatives for youth in Otorohanga was the provision of very personal, workplace based pastoral care to trainees in relevant local businesses by a few dedicated and specialised individuals. This localised and highly focused targeting of a specific industry remains the key to retaining youth in a rural environment. In summary, the challenges which the programme faced include:

  • The programme did not undertake liaise with industries outside of the trades, though potential also exists in the dairy and accountancy industries. Incorporating other actors into the initiatives would require input and commitments from stakeholders in other industries.

  • The need to rely on the constant commitment and goodwill of key individuals.

  • The withdrawal of the Mayor from the town council and the scheme has left a void which is not easy to fill as so much of the dynamism of the programme relied on his personal charisma and ability to link key role-players.

  • Loss of state funding for many of the programmes, as government priorities change and finances are allocated elsewhere.

  • The current government focus on qualification outcomes may lead to youth remaining in school or rotating around training options, rather than moving into long term employment.

  • Changes in governance and control of the programme which left some participants feeling underappreciated and disenfranchised.

  • Regional youth support staff are unable to assist specific local industry development, due to their wide client base. This is compounded by their time constraints.

Potential transferability

Some clear lessons emerge from the Otorohanga experience which may be particularly pertinent to other small urban centres losing youth. The Otorohanga style has already been utilised in other New Zealand towns, such as “Porirua Youth 2 Work” scheme, Warkworth’s “Future Works” and “Hawkes Bay Youth Futures”, although these programmes tend to have a general youth employment focus rather than specific industry sector focus. The primary lessons from Otorohanga are:

  • The need to liaise with “local” businesses within a particular industry sector in the rural area, to identify their specific requirements for their workforce. Developing a positive relationship between the employee and the company through work-based pastoral care is also critical to ensure that any training needs or personal issues are addressed.

  • The targeted employment sectors should be carefully considered, including with respect to the potential to increase the retention of young employees, the number of jobs to be created, the nature of the skills shortage and finally the degree of aspiration from the local businesses to be engaged in the programme.

  • The programme should aim to work with only the interested businesses within the target industry, rather than to liaise with all. Note that this also occurred in the dairy industry training programme which only liaised with “youth empathetic” businesses.

  • To find local actors with the time and energy to implement and design youth-focussed initiatives, the stakeholders should have an intimate knowledge of the local businesses in the relevant specific sector and their ability and willingness to relate to their youth staff. This may require different groupings of individuals to work in different industry sectors.

  • The promotion and fundraising by charismatic members of a sector group is very important as is their vision and enthusiasm. Endorsement of these individuals by a local Mayor or a local leader is also important. Personal interventions as well as the character of the Mayor and the apprentice tutor were critical to the success of the programme in Otorohanga.

  • Activities should be funded through local resources or from assured long term funding so as not to be vulnerable to short term or changeable government funding priorities.

  • It appears to be preferable to target the provision of local pastoral care to particular community members, rather than providing pastoral care on a wider regional basis as tends to occur in rural ITO apprenticeship support.

  • Pastoral care should be provided to the business operator as well as to the youth involved.

  • Informal groups of individuals to address industry needs are suitable to allow natural trust to evolve and independent initiatives to flourish. This can also enable rapid implementation if group consensus is not required. There are benefits to formal evaluations of effectiveness, which should also occur periodically.

  • The establishment of more localised training branch institutions for youth is beneficial, but these should include post-qualification pastoral care to ensure movement into employment is successful and long term.

  • There is clearly a benefit to liaising with high school youth to enable them to have week-long work experiences in local businesses. This may assist a range of local businesses by allowing them to form a relationship with the local youth who may become eventual employees.

  • Pursuing a multi-faceted approach that integrates the school, training, businesses, and youth groups can help to transition youth into long term local employment without creating an incentive to remain in school or training.

  • The programme should be driven by the employment needs within a particular local industry sector and not by training per se, or even general employment objectives, although this could be a parallel objective.

More generic considerations of potential value to rural areas in other OECD countries include:

  • Programmes should be driven from the employment needs of a specific industry sector of a town rather than a general job creation goal.

  • Local synergies and social capital can be maximised by identifying appropriate local businesses and allowing them to network with other interested parties.

  • Ensure that branches of tertiary training institutions are locally available and that they have the capacity to undertake training specific to the needs of the local industrial/business sector. Pastoral care and support should be offered to graduates to help them transition into work.

  • As the Otorohanga case clearly shows, youth training can also involve ‘work based pastoral care,’ such as life-coaching that prepares youth with life skills, alongside more traditional vocational education. This pastoral care needs to involve the business operator and follow young people into employment.

  • Having a local champion who personally knows the industry from the perspective of both the business and youth workers will be more likely to gain the respect of and engagement of all relevant role-players. Local leaders who can draw in external support and provide overall leadership and vision will help ensure the success of the programme.

  • Youth-focussed programmes should draw on external funding and training where appropriate, including the reallocation of regional pastoral care support funding to more localised and business focused initiatives.

In summary, the initiatives in Otorohanga were similar to other youth-focussed programmes implemented throughout New Zealand, including with respect to providing support, advice, tracking services, training programmes and ITO apprenticeships. However, the difference in Otorohanga was the high degree of localisation and personalisation, including work-based pastoral care and tutoring in the home town. The inclusion of future employers and respected local leaders into the programme was also key to its success. The initiative was also targeted to the automotive and engineering trades and led by invested local stakeholders in the private, government and social sector. The initiative’s informality also enabled the programme’s leaders to identify the core challenges and develop effective local solutions. The result of the programme was increased retention of young people in Otorohanga, increased apprenticeship completion rates and the mitigation of skills shortages in the local area.


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