Conservation course for job seekers extended

DOC and Ministry of Social Development (MSD) programme puts participants through a nine-week course, Te Ara Atawhai (‘the conservation pathway’), with the aim of giving them practical skills and experience in conservation and confidence to get into the workforce.

Since it started in April 2018, there have been seven courses with 41 participants graduating and on average, about 80 percent going on to employment. The success of the programme has led to the Government funding an extension for three years.

MSD’s Regional Labour Market Manager Regan Jackson says the investment in Te Ara Atawhai has been worthwhile with 34 participants successfully gaining employment.

“Industry partnerships are relationships developed with employers and providers, on behalf of the Ministry, to create employment opportunities for MSD clients.

“Our partnership with DOC has assisted a number of our job seekers to gain confidence, work fitness, and work skills in a supportive workplace environment. To date, we have seen people with major life challenges, and in some cases have been on benefits for a very long time. The programme has seen participants with significant mental health issues or criminal records succeed and move into employment.”

DOC Mahaanui Operations Manager Andy Thompson says the programme is a win-win for conservation, with participants supporting local conservation projects while getting hands-on work experience, often leading to work in this field.

“Participants do important work such as weed control at ecologically sensitive areas like Kaitōrete and Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and help maintain historic sites at Godley Head and Ōtamahua/Quail Island.

“From three courses a year, trainees provide the equivalent work of an extra three and a half full-time rangers. It’s also hugely satisfying to see participants grow and develop in their skills, confidence and outlook over the nine-week course.”

Andy Thompson says DOC has gone on to employ some participants including rangers at Aoraki/Mt Cook and Queenstown, and three rangers currently working in native tree restoration around Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere to support the One Billion Trees Programme. Some have also returned as keen conservation volunteers.

Te Ara Atawhai courses are supervised by DOC with rangers providing training in weed and predator control, track and asset maintenance, and planting and species monitoring. Participants also gain qualifications in first aid, use of herbicides and safe building construction. MSD provides post-course support to help graduates to find jobs and remain work ready.

The eighth Te Ara Atawahi course recently started with eight new trainees.

The Canterbury Te Ara Atawhai model is being considered in other parts of the country in association with the development of Jobs for Nature as part of the Government’s COVID-19 economic stimulus package.

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