Ko te piko o te māhuri tērā te tupu o te rākau - The way the sapling is bent is the way in which it will grow
Tema Tuhakaraina left school at 16 and for five years he was unemployed. He didn’t even have a job interview: Then last year his cousin Pokere was a student on the first Te Whenua Tupu Ake o Hauā, training programme, a six month Level 3 Landscaping and Construction course, run in partnership with Wintec. He told Tema that a horticulture course was planned for the next semester. Tema was interested, so Tasha Hohaia, the programme’s Project Manager for Ngāti Hauai, went to see him and together they filled out the enrolment form.

Six months later, in spite of nearly having to drop out because of financial pressures created by the delay in accessing a student allowance, Tema graduated with a Level 3 General Horticulture Certificate, a driver licence and a first aid certificate. Recently he spoke to a group of 50, telling other young people about the programme: a qualified, confident young man, ready for work.

Te Whenua Tupu Ake o Hauā is an agri-tech learning hub that Ngāti Hauai is developing at the old Mangateparu School eight kilometres north of Morrinsville in the Waikato. The school was part of their 2017 Treaty Settlement. Since then the iwi has been working on creating a positive future, not just for their members but for the region as a whole, making it a place of ‘shared prosperity’ as their tupuna, Wiremu Tamihana envisioned over150 years ago.

For many of the local people, achieving prosperity has been a challenge. That’s why, Tasha says, the iwi is making sure that they break down all the barriers. “We partner with Wintec in our recruitment process, but we use an iwi model. We don’t just hand out a flyer – we hold sessions at the marae and visit their homes, letting them know that we are there to support them. It is often the small things that stop them doing what they need to do: no phone, no credit to make a call, no petrol, or no transport. So we have a van and pick people up and we stock all the cupboards at the hub so they have food. If necessary, we go with them to Work and Income. These little things are the real barriers and we often underestimate how important they are. The other side of it is, we make sure that they understand that we are investing in them. When our iwi members find out it is not just a Wintec programme, but in partnership with Ngāti Hauai, it can make a big difference. They already know their history, and they know that they have a place here.”

In the first course, the Landscaping and Construction Level 3, the largest group of participants were aged between 18-24, but there were several who were over 40 too. The majority were men and they were all looking for a skill that they could use locally. Nine were enrolled and eight finished. “At first we expected everyone to graduate,” says Tasha, “but Wintec said that they never usually get such a high pass rate.”

The same pattern followed with the General Horticulture Level 3 course, with 10 out of the 11 completing.

And because an important part of the iwi’s plan is to restore the local economy by creating jobs, the students in both courses have benefited from getting practical experience through contributing to the completion of phase one of the horticulture business: 24 tunnel houses have been built and 9000 blueberry bushes planted. There are not many paid jobs yet, but there soon will be. This year the orchard will be extended, and they are trialling new crops inside and outside of tunnels. These will be tested in their new agri-labs at the hub, so the students will be able to see first-hand
how scientists are working on the crops.

When it comes time for the students to apply for jobs, they are not on their own. “We have relationships with a number of employers,” says Tasha, “and they are happy with our process. So a small group goes to the interview and the Wintec tutor sits in too. They can be each other’s champions. If the person applying for a job doesn’t really put themselves forward in response to a question, others can pipe up and say – he’s really good at that! We now see that we need to provide support for the next step. We need an employment coach to help people transition from the training into a job. That’s a big step. Someone from the iwi will do this.

“We are now recruiting for the Food Processing Level 3 course which starts in February and getting a lot of women applying. A lot of our people work in lower level jobs in food processing, including the meat works. They have no chance of promotion at the moment, but if they learn about quality
assurance, packaging and food safety and all the other parts of this qualification, they will have a chance. One 40-year-old man told us that he didn’t want to keep on working at his basic job in the meat works, he wants to be an example to others. He wants a good job. Hearing first-hand things like that really makes you understand that we have to create opportunities for them. We can’t let them stay where they are.”

The next course to be offered will be in Applied Science.

Lisa Gardener, who is the iwi’s General Manager, says that the long-term strategy, E Hoki ana ki te Tōnuitanga, is to lift the educational achievement levels of all their members. Currently, according to the 2013 Census, only around 9 percent have a university education – the 2012 goal is 15
percent; only 64.3 percent have a school lever qualification – the 2031 goal is 72.2 percent; and currently the employment rate is 77 percent – by 2031 they aim to be at 86 percent. “We are still developing our education strategy, but it will sit within this framework. We have targets to raise those levels. E Hoki ana ki te Tōnuitanga translates as – let’s return to more prosperous times. Wiremu Tamihana’s times when we had our own school, our own flour mill and a bank. All that went out the window with the Land Wars.”

Tasha says that at the AGM at the end of last year there was real excitement about the progress already made. “It’s not real to them until they see their own grandchildren getting their qualifications. And the students are aware that they are not just doing this for themselves. Of course, whānau are involved all the way along. They are often invited in to see what the students have achieved, and they are invited to the awards. Tama’s auntie just cried, she was so happy to see him get his excellence awards. She said – he’s a different person!”