I’ve visited family in Christchurch a few times since the devastating earthquakes of 2011, and it has been heartening recently to see the small seeds of new life beginning to appear on the landscape.

The colourful temporary town centre, the increasing number of spaces cleared of rubble and debris, and the community-building activities springing up in pockets throughout the city all signal the start of something significant – and Hawke’s Bay has a great opportunity to be part of that.

Here in the Bay we have of course major common ground with the people of Christchurch. Two of the most devastating natural disasters in recent New Zealand history have been earthquakes in our respective regions. Napier and Hastings arose from the rubble as Art Deco and Spanish Mission jewels. Christchurch is about to rise and become another iconic city in which New Zealanders can take pride.

And we have young people here in Hawke’s Bay who are helping to make that happen.

Hawke’s Bay Today recently featured on its front page some distressing statistics about unemployment in the Bay, particularly amongst young people, with Mãori and Pacific Islanders disproportionately represented. We can either keep wringing our hands about that or we can do something about it.

Long term, there are all sorts of economic initiatives that need to happen to pull our regional economy out of its current slump. Those things will happen, but if we’ve learned anything from the last few years of recession it’s that economic recovery takes time.

Our young people don’t have time to sit around waiting for that. They are here now, trained and ready in the kinds of trades and other disciplines that Christchurch needs for its rebuild, and it would be a waste to let them become yet another youth statistic when they could be finding their place in the world by reconstructing one of New Zealand’s major cities.

EIT trades graduates to Christchurch

With that in mind, the trades team at EIT this year launched a “Trades Crusade” to assist trades ‘graduates’ into jobs that will help rebuild Christchurch with the help of partners such as MSD, the YMCA, a Christchurch Mãori trust and Christchurch employers themselves. With the Christchurch rebuild looming, the government funded extra places at tertiary organisations last year and as a result, the first graduates are now ready and willing to do what they were trained to do.

Michael Burne, who trained in engineering at EIT, was the first to fly out – to a job with Elliott Scaffolding.
He was closely followed by Ngatoko Fraser, Presley Ratima and Hale Tuari – all EIT Certificate in Carpentry graduates. Hale is working for a painting company, the other two for building firms.

EIT and the Ministry of Social Development have jointly created the position of a Youth Link employment advisor to transition young people from study to work, and the appointee Aayden Clark is overseeing the crusade, and closely follows the progress of the young men.

After initially staying with relations, Michael is now set up to go flatting, and his employer will be putting him through the relevant training programmes so he can gain qualifications specific to scaffolding.

Four weeks after Hale started at Paintworx, the company offered him an apprenticeship – which he is happy to take. “They love him,” says Aayden.

Hale is staying at the YMCA with several others who have since travelled down to Christchurch.

Sharon Eade of Paintworx says: “If you can send us more like Hale…we will employ the lot of them.”

The other two original crusaders are working as building labourers. They had an initial hiccup with transport. They were working on the outskirts of the city and, without cars, there was no easy way they could get to their jobs. Supported by EIT, they’ve moved to new positions with another company where public transport isn’t an issue.

A further five crusaders, the youngest aged 17, have now joined the group in Christchurch. They completed EIT’s Level 3 carpentry programme and are working for construction companies in Christchurch.

Aayden Clarke

Aayden is finalising placements for another six and is confident three of these will be in Christchurch before Christmas.

“It’s awesome, very awesome,” he says of the scheme’s success. “The boys are loving it – their jobs, a new city and the things they are doing besides work.”

More potential awaits

Aayden sees post-employment support as very important for keeping people in jobs and he believes companies have a role to play in this.

EIT has set up a Facebook page for posting messages to trade crusaders. It’s also the means for the crusaders to keep in touch – although they are working for different companies, they socialise together. They have a good culture, Aayden says of these young men.

Next year, it’s anticipated 12-15 more crusaders will be heading to Christchurch. It comes back to a resourcing issue in terms of lining up the jobs, matching those up with the trades ‘graduates,’ arranging accommodation and supporting them down there in their new environment. “We could make it as big as we wanted to down there,” Aayden says. “We could have 50 if we wanted to.”

At the end of January, EIT will hold a workshop in Christchurch for the trades crusaders. It will be an opportunity for them to come together, for EIT to offer accreditation and to perhaps take on a community project.

Barry Baker, chairman of Te Kaihanga Mãori Trade Co-op in Christchurch, who is helping the graduates as they settle, says: “In 10 years time, these boys will really appreciate the opportunity, effort and support you are giving them. Their lives are changing.”

Long term of course, we want to keep young people in Hawke’s Bay. We all need to come together to do that – employers, economic development agencies, the education sector, families and local government. If they do leave for work, we need to be able to attract them back when our own economy recovers by creating the flourishing economic, social and community environment that young people want to live in. There are a lot of people and organisations working on that. Let’s give them our personal and professional support for their endeavours, as they will benefit all of us.

In the meantime, let’s also keep sight of the big picture – the vision for education, for training, for adulthood that our young people need to embrace in order to take their rightful place in the world.

This is nowhere more aptly demonstrated than in the famous story about Sir Christopher Wren’s rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great London Fire of 1666. The architect toured the worksite, asking people what they were doing. The men’s replies focused on their specific tasks, or the wages they were earning for their effort. Then, the architect came across a small boy, sweeping dirt and debris. What was he doing? Wren asked. The boy replied, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren to build a cathedral.”

We’ve got some young men in Christchurch who could have been struggling on a benefit in Hawke’s Bay. They’re now clearing land, erecting scaffolding, designing, welding and constructing things. They’re re-building Christchurch, and their own lives in the process. We should be proud of them, and of the people who helped to make it happen.

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