The Youth Employability Programme (YEP) – Licence to Work, has been developed by COMET Auckland and is delivered in partnership with regional organisations.

The programme brings educators, employers and youth organisations together to support young people develop the employability and work readiness skills they need to get a job – and stay in a job.

Shirley Johnson from COMET Auckland says that they began the co-design process about 6 years ago – working with all the key stakeholders including the Chamber of Commerce, the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Business New Zealand, the New Zealand Training Federation, the Ministry of Education, Careers NZ, MSD, NZQA and the TEC.

They are now in their fourth year of roll-out with 9 regions offering the programme which is delivered from about 100 locations, with more regions coming on board all the time.

Josie Whaanga, Regional Coordinator for the programme in the Wairarapa first heard about the YEP at a 2015 symposium where Shirley Johnson was speaking. At the time Josie was working for the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre and as a volunteer for the Wairarapa Youth Education Training and Employment (YETE) Partnership. This local organisation had been formed to develop a “bottom up” community-led initiative to strategically align resources and efforts in the whole of the Wairarapa to support young people to reach their vocational and/or educational potential. As she listened to Shirley, Josie knew that Licence to Work (the certificate given to graduates of the programme) was what YETE needed. An invitation was given to Shirley to speak to the YETE Partnership about the programme. Soon after twenty people from the Wairarapa attended a COMET facilitator training programme. That was in October 2016. In 2017, YETE had 30 young people participate in the programme. At the end of the year 11 of them graduated with their Licence to Work – or as YETE calls it their L2W.

Now the Project Lead for YETE, part of Josie’s role is to build and facilitate the partnerships which contribute to the L2W programme.

YETE is made up of 6 strategic teams: leadership and management; educators; employers; career and transition; whānau (of at risk youth); and youth (at risk).

It’s all done with 2 FTE staff and about 100 volunteers who help with a range of tasks including engaging local employers, co-facilitating employer workshops and running events such as industry days or a ‘where to from here’ event for whānau or youth.

Funding for YETE initiatives is sourced from a mixture of local council support, grants, trusts and philanthropy. To date there has only been a small amount of funding from Government, mainly from Te Kete Ipurangi.

Educating the young people

In 2017 YETE ran the L2W programme as a pilot in partnership with Makoura College and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. With COMET they co-delivered a number of facilitator training workshops to groups of teachers, tutors and other interested members of the community.

This year YETE is working with three secondary schools, one tertiary provider and Work and Income NZ, with plans to enter into partnership with the remaining educational institutes in the region as soon as possible.

The programme provides an explicit sequence of learning activities to build the competencies business leaders have said they want to see young people display, and a process to assess and record them. There are seven core soft skills competencies around work readiness and personal management. They are: positive attitude, communication, team work, self-management, willingness to learn, thinking skills (problem solving and decision making) and resilience.

“Most of our young people don’t realise that they have a solid foundation in these skills,” says Josie. “Our job is to help them identify what they already have in their kete, then draw them out. Developing these skills does not happen overnight. We ask our education providers to deliver the programme over at least three terms or months and during that time young people can practise those skills though their volunteer and work experience placeents. There’s no quick fix. In time, though, these skills become ingrained.”

Therese King, from Makoura’s Careers Department is one of the facilitators who went through COMET’s two day educator training programme:

“COMET provides us with resources on things we can do to teach these skills. Mostly it is about creating teamwork and problem solving activities and lots of conversations. This year we have about 50 students involved in the programme. They have one and a half hours a week of facilitated learning and then practise their skills first during their voluntary work and then in an employer placement. A lot of our students have a part time job so they can bring issues from their work into our classroom discussions.”

Work placements are matched to what students think they might want to do as a career. When the students go into a work placement they are funded by the Gateways programme, though to meet the L2W programme requirements they must complete 80 hours of work experience.

The volunteering component of the programme provides an opportunity to test the waters by beginning to practise the skills, at the same time giving back to the community. Some students at Makoura have worked as sports coaches for other schools,
or contributed to organising Makoura’s reunion. Ten hours is mandatory. Many do more.

YETE and COMET ask those delivering the programme at the school to bring whānau into the conversation early on so they can understand what their young people are being taught and support them at home. “We want what they are learning on the programme,” says Josie, “to become part of the dinner table conversation at home.”

All of the YEP programmes throughout the country share their resources through a Regional Drop Box folder, an initiative Josie set-up to support best practice and collaboration amongst the organisations delivering the programme. “It is an amazing community of practice,” says Shirley Johnson, “with everyone working together for the singular goal of helping youth build the skills they need.”

A new digital platform, Track-it, is now providing YEP with better data as all the assessments are now uploaded. It also allows students with a student number to maintain their e-portfolio of micro credits which they can continue to build on and use when applying for a job.

Workplace mentors

To date 25 employers have signed a Youth Friendly Business Partnership agreement with YETE and about 80 businesses are engaged in the process but have not yet signed the paper work. Once signed up they become part of the Youth Friendly Employer group in the Wairarapa.

Employers attend a workshop which shows them how, as mentors, they can build on, support and strengthen the skills that the young people are being taught at school.

Josie: “It’s often about breaking down assumptions that can build up between generations. For example a young person might feel that an employer is angry (by the look on their face), when he or she is just frustrated. Once both sides understand what the issue is, emotions stop driving the communication and employers can start giving the young people explicit positive feedback and perhaps note where things could be done better.”

Leeann Campbell is the Operations Manager at Copthorne Solway Hotel. For six months she has been mentoring Cleveland Conaghan who completed his L2W last year.

Leeann: “The benefit of YETE for me as an employer is that young people come to us with an understanding of the workplace – how they should be conducting themselves and the expectations of employers. Cleveland has been coming to us every Friday. My role

is to encourage him and to help him recognise the things he needs to work on. From the beginning I told him that I need to be frank and honest, so from the word go he has never taken my comments personally. He has showed us that he has some really good skills
in dealing with the public, so we have been able to help him build up those skills. And that’s going to be valuable for him because he wants to get into flight attendant training. He says that he feels very supported.

“Absolutely supported,” says Cleveland. “Working here has allowed me to get confidence in a job. I’ve learned to work in a team, to work alongside all sorts of different people and get recognised by an employer for the things that you are good at. I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It has set me up in a good place for the future.”

REAP Wairarapa is the fund-holder for YETE which doesn’t have legal status. Tracey Shepherd the Education Manager at REAP says that the programme is a great example of positive collaboration in the community.

An external evaluation of the programme nation-wide has confirmed that YEP – Licence to Work does get results. The evaluators found that the programme builds young people’s skills in the specific competencies that employers say are most needed and that the process is breaking down the silos between educators and employers – putting youth at the centre of the process.