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SWEET AS Māori Trade Training Academy

He Korowai Trust’s SWEET AS Māori Trade Training Academy supports Māori youth into full time trade training and guaranteed employment – right at home in Kaitaia and fully supported by their whānau.

SWEET AS (Students Without Education Employment Training Achieving Succeeding) had its first intake of 18 pre-apprenticeship trainees in March this year.

The academy is part of He Korowai’s integrated model supporting whānau wellbeing.

The model was established by He Korowai’s founder and CEO, Ricky Houghton, who in February of this year, won Kiwibank’s Local Hero of the Year award.

It was 17 years ago that Ricky started helping whānau on a voluntary basis – from the boot of his car. They were mostly people who were homeless or those with serious financial problems.

Since then He Korowai’s work has grown in response to social and economic need.

As well as their Whare Ora programme they are educating families about money management (a building financial capability programme funded by MSD) and offering restorative justice (funded by the Ministry of Justice).

He Korowai’s mission is developing tino rangatiratanga.

Their strategy – providing ordinary services in an extra-ordinary way.

Whare Ora

He Korowai’s Whare Ora initiative
He Korowai’s Whare Ora initiative


He Korowai’s Whare Ora initiative, which is about moving whānau from state housing dependence to housing independence, started several years ago when the trust purchased the old Kaitaia Hotel and renovated this into a 35 bed emergency housing facility. The accommodation provides a place for individuals and couples for a period of 3 months while they are supported into their own accommodation.

They have also, with some support from Te Puni Kokiri, established a papakāinga housing zone which is violence, drug and alcohol free. It provides another option for whānau.

Those living in the papakāinga programme already have their own community garden and chickens for eggs. In time they will have the skills and resources to produce their own milk and meat, there will be a health centre and a Puna Reo – a whānau-led early childhood education centre subsidised by the Ministry of Education.

But the housing available still falls far short of the needs of people who need help.

Always strategic, He Korowai decided to provide sustainable housing by offering building, construction/painting and decorating training for 20 young people, with a guaranteed pathway into employment.

So SWEET As, with Toddy Shepherd as the director, was born.

The academy has been funded by Foundation North which has provided a grant of just over $2 million to help He Korowai build their capability. This includes getting effective systems and governance in place and funding two people providing pastoral care.

Microsoft has supplied computers, monitors and large screen TVs for a study centre.

A new construction company has been formed to work alongside He Korowai, developing sustainable housing for the whole community.

So now the SWEET AS students are building more relocatable off-grid cabins and renovating Auckland Housing NZ houses which were due for demolition.

Under He Korowai’s arrangement with HNZ eighteen houses have already been moved to Kaitaia, renovated by the academy and made available to whānau entering the home ownership programme. This involves a three year probationary period – ensuring that the new owners are all getting up to speed with financial management, and meeting their other contractual obligations.

A further nine HNZ houses have been moved and are waiting for the student’s to do the renovations.

Getting qualified

By the end of June the rangatahi had completed their Building and Construction Certificate Level 2 with NorthTec.

In July the education provider was changed to the Regent Training Centre (RTC). It’s a PTE with Tai Tokerau roots with campuses in Whangarei, Kerikeri, and Auckland. The partnership with SWEET AS anticipated Regent’s decision to open up a campus in Kaitaia.

Alan Tidswell, the Northland Development Manager for the PTE, says RTC’s philosophy of always putting the learner first, fits well with He Korowai:

“We do a lot of our teaching-learning around projects, out of the classroom and on-site. Many of our young people have dropped out of school, and providers will lose them if the rangatahi sit in a classroom all day.

“Eighty to ninety percent of our students across our various campuses, are Māori, and many of our tutors are too. We know how important it is to help our young people reconnect to their culture, and much of what we do supports this. For example, at Matariki we took our students onto a marae for a hangi and planting. Wherever possible we integrate Māori culture and history into our programmes, and definitely into our daily structure. We start and finish the day with a karakia, observe tikanga protocols, and He Korowai provides a daily lunch for the learners.

“Regent Training Centre provides transport so that our learners can get to and from the training. Lack of transport is a real barrier to higher education in the Far North.

“We also make sure that the learners have fun. We bring our campuses together for sports days, and we take them to visit places like the Adrenalin Water Park.

“The beauty of SWEET AS is that they have two extra, dedicated pastoral care people on top of our staff. We are working in close partnership with them so that we can better support the challenges that our learners must overcome.

“We provide the education delivery and qualifications for our learners under SWEET AS. Our regular meetings ensure that what we are doing and how we are doing it fits in with their overall goals.”

The 18 young people now learning with Regent Training Centre will transition into sustainable employment once they complete their qualifications.

Replicating the model?

“What Foundation North is funding,” Toddy Shepherd says, “is not a programme, it is an experience so our students are fully committed.”

Regent’s approach is also to give the young people a positive experience: their track record for completion in their other courses is high at over 75 percent.

If the academy can find guaranteed employment, the PTE expects to be offering SWEET AS learners the opportunity to study Forestry and Health and Fitness in the last term of this year, and in the New Year, Construction Level 2, Health and Fitness and Hospitality.

“The model we are using around home ownership and independent families is working,” says Toddy, “so we would like to roll it out around the country. If it works here it is going to work in other places.”

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