“At the end of the first trimester we have a 75% completion rate for our 105 YG ākonga,” says WITT Te Pūkenga Team Lead Te Puna Manaaki / Youth Guarantee Coordinator Joanah Phillips.
YG provides fees-free tertiary study at Levels 1–3 to enable young people aged 16 to 24 to progress to higher-level education or employment. These are often young people who have left school before achieving any NCEA qualifications.
“School hasn’t worked for whatever reason and these young people come to us directly or are referred from school and other social service agencies - they know this support works and that we get results,” says Joanah.
Joanah and her team of Uriah Tumai (Waikato- Tainui, Te Arawa) and Rhegan Hudson interview each young person with their whānau, or support people, to ensure they are studying for the right reason and want to be at WITT. Once they are accepted each young person has a personal education plan put in place before their course starts and an intense wraparound service begins. This includes regular liaison with tutors and whatever personalised study and pastoral support the young person requires to complete their qualification and eventually transition to further study or employment.
“The key is building relationships so our young people come to us with a problem before it gets too big,” says Joanah.
After nearly 13 years working with YG ākonga, Joanah says the scheme works.
“The success of the programme is down to the empowerment model which looks at the strengths each young person has, not a deficit model of what they are missing, and that extra layer of support.”
She regularly has young adults come back to catch her up on their achievements.
“It is so satisfying – I love seeing their growth.”
Another strength of YG is the way the YG ākonga are part of a tertiary institution, mixing with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and ages.
“They feel like equals and that they are respected and they step up to that role and expectation - this place allows them to actually be themselves and not have to fit in to feel like they belong.”
Uriah and Rhegan are new to the team and each brings different skills and diversity to the mix. Uriah comes from a youth justice background and Rhegan from early childhood education. What they have in common is great people skills and the ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
“I enjoy working with youth from all walks of life and WITT is definitely a melting pot,” says Uriah.
Joanah herself started her career as a qualified chef who retrained in youth work after volunteering with victim support and experiences with youth mental health.