Matapuna Training Centre

A grant from Ako Aotearoa has made it possible for Jodie Cook and her team of tutors at Gisborne’s Matapuna Training Centre to complete the work they had started three years ago but not been able to fully implement – developing key soft skill competencies and learning progressions.

The pressure of work had prevented the team from taking their initial work to the next level – implementing the soft skill programme across all Youth Guarantee classes, gathering all the data and completing the process of review. With the support of Ako Aotearoa, they are now able to refine the competencies, implement the competencies across all classes, and provide hard data on the outcomes.

Their preliminary findings are – that if young adults develop their soft skills, their educational outcomes are far better than those who don’t.

Jodie Cook, the CEO, says that the decision to work on identifying the soft skills that their Youth Guarantee students often lacked came as a result of the PTE’s failure to meet the TEC’s educational performance indicators. Matapuna was clearly underperforming. Why? The conclusion the group of seven tutors and Jodie came to was – young adults often experience significant barriers to achievement because they lack the necessary soft skills. Two obvious soft skills that young people need are being reliable and turning up with a positive attitude. But what were the others and how could they be brought into the teaching curriculum and measured?

Jodie Cook explains their process and what they have achieved:


“We started by developing a graduate profile of what we wanted our learners to be like when they left us, then we worked out what we needed to teach them so that they could graduate successfully.

“The graduate profile enabled us to identify what has become five key soft-skill competencies: managing self; relating to others; thinking; participating and contributing; and language text and symbols. These link to the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission’s vocational pathways key competencies. Each of the five competencies has a set of descriptors – each with benchmarks that describe beginning, developing, and advanced levels.

“For example, the draft managing self-competency has four descriptors: reliable and responsible; positive attitude/willingness to learn; personal care and expectations; and resilience. And relating to others has: communications and interactions; leadership; respect; and teamwork.

“We are still refining some of the competencies – they are a work in progress.

“To work out the descriptors we developed a tool which helped us work through the levels of competencies in a systematic way. There was a lot of discussion and we worked on descriptors over a period of time, always going back to the competencies and descriptors that students were struggling with. We are now at version 4 and we know what changes we still want to make.

“Then we worked out what we had to do to teach them these skills.

“Because they are young adults and capable of reflecting on their own behaviour, we decided to produce a key competencies booklet that each student would work through. Tutors work with students to identify learning needs, set their own goals, work out what they need to do – and what tutors need to do to support them. For example, for one student being able to get to class on time might always mean that we need to pick them up each day. Before we had this process we might not have known that he had no means of transport.

“Then we help them assess their progress, using specific evidence, such as attendance being between 85 percent or 100 percent – which is our advanced measure for this descriptor.

“So far we have had about fifty learners engaged in this process, a mixture of young men and young women, all enrolled in our Youth Guarantee courses – Sports and Wellness; and NCEA Level 2 Vocational Pathways, Foundation Skills Level 1.

“Although we have not yet statistically demonstrated the link between soft skill development and academic success (this data will come at the end of 2018), we can see that those learners who do complete all the competencies and work through the progressions have indeed completed the course successfully, while the others have not.

“We are looking to evidence this link and should have all the data for this by the end of the year. Our report will be published on the Ako Aotearoa website. It will include our templates so that other organisations can work on developing the competencies, descriptors, and progressions for their own learners. Each community is likely to be different.

Organisational culture

“As well as facilitating educational success for our learners, teaching soft skills has contributed to a change in the overall culture of the organisation. Everyone is much more focused on the individual student, working out what their needs are – not in terms of a deficit or what they can’t do, but how we can support them to be more successful. Tutors now look more for solutions, rather than problems.”

Karina Terekia (Te Aitanga a Māhaki/Ngāti Porou) is one of the tutors at the centre. She says that the soft skills focus has changed the way she teaches and the way the organisation works as a whole:

“The students are taking responsibility for their own learning – tracking their own progress, managing their timetables and asking for help now. As a tutor, I find that I have a more supportive role in the classroom rather than telling them what to do and pushing them all the time.

“We have a whānau environment which means that we work together to get things done. Students have cleaning duties to perform daily encouraging reliability, responsibility, and teamwork. Then there are the centre-wide activities, as well as their voluntary work and community projects where they can learn leadership and communication skills. Our students find the staff to be approachable and because they know our individual strengths they always know who to go to if they need some help.

“The whānau learning environment also means that our students know that it is a safe place to be. Those who have gang affiliations or outside issues that may affect learning know that they leave all of that at the door. If a problem does arise we use restorative practices to help find a solution.

“I think that what we are doing is making monumental changes in their approach to life, and not just in terms of moving into further education or employment, which most do. It works for us. We get quite excited about it.”

Debbie Hongara (Ngāti Porou) is currently a student at the training centre. She says that they spend some time every day working on the key competencies, both in English and te reo, and it’s helped:

“Most definitely it’s helped. I think I have changed a lot since I have been here. I have a different outlook on things. I am more open-minded and respectful. Before I was quite disrespectful. Giving respect has made me realise that you have to earn someone else’s respect and how you act, and what you say has an impact on what people think of you.

“I stay with my grandmother and she loves how I have come back from the course. I interact more with my family, with my nieces and nephews. She says that I have a good influence on them.”

So, even while we wait for the final ‘proof’, the evidence already suggests that Matapuna Training Centre’s approach to soft skills provides a good model for other providers to follow.

The experience has not only helped lift their organisational outcomes, but it has also raised questions for Jodie and her tutors about how the system as a whole is delivered:

“What we have done,” says Jodie, “is to focus on the inputs and it has worked. I’d like to see this reflected in a funding system – that is a shift from measuring outputs, to looking at the inputs provided to support learner success.”

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Spring Newsletter 2018.