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UCOL carpentry students building a better future in Tūrangi

By UCOL on Monday, 28 June 2021

Story and image by Laurilee McMichael, Taupō & Tūrangi Weekender

Carpentry tutor Steven Wharehinga hopes that in a year's time, 26 work-ready young people will be available in Tūrangi to take up apprenticeships or new jobs.

And he's doing his best to get them there, relocating from Palmerston North to Tūrangi each week to pass on his skills and knowledge at the 40-week full-time pre-trades carpentry course.

The course began last month and will run until March 2022, and the aim is for the students, aged from 15 to 40, to finish ready to move into employment.

UCOL is a Palmerston-North based Institute of Technology with four campuses. It runs a pre-trades course in Taumarunui and was approached by district councillor Tangonui Kingi and Ngāti Tūrangitukua to do the same thing in Tūrangi for local students who found it too difficult or expensive to travel to Taupō.

 
Carpentry tutor Steven Wharehinga in the classroom with his students

Now Steven's students, who are a mix of males and females and mostly aged between 17 and 25 years, are studying for the level three certificate in trade skills (carpentry) each weekday from 9am until 4.30pm.

It is run out of the Ngāti Tūrangitukua building in Atirau Rd, Tūrangi and as time goes on people will be able see the progress being made on a three-bedroom relocatable house the students will be constructing outside.

Steven started with the basics, spending four weeks teaching the students Pythagoras' theorem and trigonometry to ensure they understand the mechanics of correct construction.

However, he says the biggest challenge is not teaching the students the building skills, it's getting them ready to be employed full time.

"I have a wealth of knowledge and information that I can share with them but it's having the courage to take that next step and selling themselves.

"If I can get 26 of them working full time by the end of the course that's a huge win."

The fees-free course is open to anybody and there is a lot of support to help the students succeed.

On the day the Taupō & Tūrangi Weekender arrived, the students had all just been issued with their own tool belts and tools, which they were wearing proudly. The deal is that the tools are theirs but must be looked after and any that go missing have to be replaced.

Steven has strong whānau and iwi connections to Tūrangi and Tūwharetoa. He grew up in the town when his father was a tunneller on the Tongariro Power Development and went to Hirangi Primary School and Tongariro High School.

"So this actually gives me the opportunity to give back to a community that I call home."

After finishing school he did a pre-trades carpentry course, then joined the Royal New Zealand Engineers Corps. He has been with UCOL for 16 years teaching construction and is used to dealing with all types of learners, including setting up and running carpentry programmes in Manawatū Prison.

Students Logan Otimi, 15, and Marcus Bell, 16, are both still at school but fellow learner Paul Sayasamone, 16, is on the course full-time. He signed up because he wants to get a building apprenticeship and eventually build his own home.

Logan and Marcus both want to get jobs after their study, with Marcus saying being a builder would be his dream job.

The trio had so far learned how to level and how to build a perfect square and said although it could be tricky, Steven made it easy for them to learn.

"We've learned how to properly make it square and stuff and heaps of maths. He makes it easy because we can use a calculator as well."

Steven is supported by UCOL staff Kelly Johnston and Tahau Williams, who have helped the students apply for allowances and scholarships and focus on keeping them engaged and attending, which frees up Steven to teach.

Last week the pair were out talking to local businesses, saying it would be community support that would help the students succeed.

They were hoping for a big turnout at a community event being held next Wednesday evening from 5pm, with everybody welcome.

"Come and see what we're doing here," Kelly says. "There'll be a little bit of a presentation on what our programme is about, and to hear from some of our students. It can't just be UCOL that gets these students through, it's a whole community to assist and support each other and support each of our students to be successful. We're changing lives here."

  • UCOL is holding a community connect event at the Tūrangitukua building at 130 Atirau Rd next Wednesday, June 30 from 5pm to 6.30pm for the community to come along and learn about the course.
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