Most South Auckland families, whose whānau were once refugees or migrants, have had members who, at one time or other, attended the Active Institute.

Part of the reason for this is that the Institute, which has been operating since 1988, is close to the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, and many migrants and refugees choose to settle in the South Auckland region.

The other reason, their manager Rob Moattar says, is because of both the Institute’s culture, which celebrates unity in diversity and respect for the cultural heritage of all the people who come and live here – and their holistic approach to education and training.

The Institute, which is a PTE funded as an ACE provider, offers four free courses: Everyday English 1 and Everyday English 2; Digital Literacy; an English Language Foundation course to help learners communicate more effectively and improve their participation in society and the workforce, and Employment Preparation and Placement, an employment-focused programme that assists participants to find employment.

There is a staff of 18 working from two campuses – one in Manukau and the other in Panmure.

“Our main focus is on everyday communicative English,” says Rob. “Practical English that they can use in everyday life. But we are not just teaching them English lessons. Many of the participants need life skills and the skills needed to settle into their new community. If they come from small villages, and have never been to a big city, they have huge challenges to settling in.”

Gulban Bidesi, who is responsible for the Everyday English courses (both of which are 12 weeks part time) says that when the students first come, they are given a diagnostic test and from there the staff take over, providing the skills and knowledge each individual needs.

“We teach them daily activities, like how to understand their utility bills and how to pay it, what is GST and income tax. What the different traffic signs mean. We get Inland Revenue to come and talk about Working for Families. We provide them with information about living in New Zealand. For example, we take them to the library, and we invite librarians over to give them a talk. We show them how useful a library can be – they can become members and it is free. Most of them want to grab it! We have a whole week on the Treaty. We also teach budgeting. We get many of them using Pathways Awaroa, so they can keep learning at home.”

Many learners, after completing their English classes will go on and do the 120-hour Digital Literacy course – which also has a lot of online lessons that students can do at home.

Some learners are already very good at operating their smart phone because they use it to be in touch with families overseas, so they know how to send an email, and use the Internet and various apps. But most don’t know how to use a computer. The digital literacy class gives learners a good understanding of basic computing, which, as well as helping them participate in the modern digital environment, can start them off in a career in information technology. One of the planned outcomes is that they can all write a cv and go online and search for jobs.

Each year between 200–250 students complete these English language and digital literacy classes, which are funded by the TEC. Post Covid, rather than the numbers decreasing because of the closed borders, the numbers of participants are actually increasing, because many people have lost their jobs and are now taking the opportunity to improve their English and up-skill themselves.

The employment-focused programme is funded by MSD.

Rob says that most refugees and migrants who are referred by Work and Income are motivated to work and every year but last year (because of lockdowns) the Institute met its target in their MSD contract to successfully place 60 percent of those completing the course in sustainable, entry-level work.

“That is what most of them are looking for. We assist them by preparing them for work and making them familiar with the different industries in South Auckland that have jobs they can do. In the past 33 years we have established contacts with many local employers like distribution warehouses, outlet retailers, hospitality or aged care services, which have entry level jobs. We find out what people are interested in then we help them prepare a relevant CV and get all the required certificates that they need like First Aid or Site Safe for free. Other certificates or licences such as a forklift licence or a driver licence are offered. We also pay for all the AA costs and some driving lessons. This means that when they do get a job they may get better pay, and it makes their job more sustainable.

“Once they start working, we provide post-placement support which lasts for up to eight weeks after they start: We stay in touch to make sure they are settled into their new job. We can answer their questions, maybe help with some funding for transport, or make sure they have the work gear that they need, for example, like safety boots. We buy some of it, and sometimes we can help them get a transition to work grant from Work and Income.

“While last year it was hard to place people, this year it is much easier. There is plenty of work available.

“Feedback from employers is that those who were placed into employment are very happy and committed to work. The key is to make their jobs sustainable by making sure that they are in an entry level job of their choice, and that they have all the support and skills they need to do the job.”

All the time that participants are taking on these different learning challenges, they are actively supported by the Institute’s caring environment.

“We make sure that we celebrate the cultural diversity of our students in a positive way,” says Rob. “We have shared lunches or afternoon teas where people are asked to dress in their cultural costumes and bring their own food – and their dance and songs. They enjoy that very much. They can make new friends from other cultures, and it allows them to practise their English. If a Chinese student is sitting alongside an Arabic speaker, they only way to communicate is English!

“When they do leave many of them refer their friends and family here and come back and visit.”

When Auckland went into level 4 they already had a system in place. They have approval from the NZQA to provide online training and distance learning during lockdowns, so all their courses are available and running during this period. Rob says that tutors use a variety of media including Google Classroom, Zoom and email. They also phone to stay in touch with their students and to provide daily lessons, as well as making sure everyone has updated information from the Ministry of Health.”