Developing our future workforce

Posted on November 13, 2015

One of the key areas of concern identified in the RGS is developing the right skills for the Northland economy going forward.

Northland’s youth not engaged in education, employment or training (NEETs) is way too high (20.3 % compared to the national rate 11.4 %). There are a number of agencies working hard to resolve this issue. However increasing the skills and capabilities of our Northland workforce is a long-term undertaking that starts way before our kids leave school. Our workforce of the future will require different skills. They will need to be technology-savvy, good networkers and communicators, problem solvers, versatile and innovative. Many studies indicate that the best investment we can make to increase productivity is in fact the early years.

I’d like to therefore showcase three in-school programs that are contributing to creating the productive citizens of the future. In other words amazing Kids!

World champion future problem solvers

Four young girls from Hukerenui School are world champions! (Jasmine Hayes, Katie Barnes, Eliza Rockell and Makenna Purvis) won the junior section of the 2015 World Future Problem Solving Championship in Iowa this year.

Hukerenui School R.U.R.A.L team with their trophies at the International Future Problem Solving Finals in Iowa, USA. Jasmine Hayes, Katie Barnes, Eliza Rockell, Makenna Purvis.
Hukerenui School R.U.R.A.L team with their trophies at the International Future Problem Solving Finals in Iowa, USA. Jasmine Hayes, Katie Barnes, Eliza Rockell, Makenna Purvis.

Their project, R.U.R.A.L (Recognising Understanding Rural Agricultural Learning) focused on the enormous amount of unused land space at their school showing how it could be used more productively. ‘They brainstormed solutions that would provide hands on learning opportunities to develop skills for life. It was challenging but they managed to find wonderful sponsors and experts who pledged their support and as a result they learned to farm maize (6ha of it), lavender, reclaimed their native bush and made natural remedies, developed the bee hives and used the wax and honey to produce balms, planted an orchard, built a paddock and have loaned alpacas to farm. Students are learning to felt and spin wool from the Alpaca fibre. As a result they managed to develop 71% of the unused land space effectively for education. They bought a still from their maize profit, and all classes are involved in extracting their own essential oils and are learning to make all sorts of balms, other products and are learning to be self-sufficient.’ For the full story go to:

Sistema Whangarei

The brainchild of José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema began in Venezuela in 1975 and has been strongly supported by successive Venezuelan governments. Its goal of achieving success stems from the hundreds of thousands of young people who play in an international network of orchestras. In Northland, Whangarei Youth Music has been actively promoting El Sistema’s goals for nearly three years to over 100 children from low socio-economic areas. It is a wonderful educational and musical programme designed to inspire the young to become the best they can be. In 2012 I was lucky enough to evaluate Sistema Aotearoa in Otara here is a paragraph from that evaluation: ‘families were clear that their children’s accomplishment and the experience of excellence in such a demanding discipline helps give them, and their children, a belief that they can achieve anything. The Sistema Aotearoa experience is transforming their belief about what is possible, for themselves and their children. Parents clearly saw this programme as a wonderful opportunity that had opened doors they never thought possible.’

During the evaluation I was particularly impressed that musicality is associated with mathematical and language ability. Attendance rates, school achievement and community engagement all improved. For an inspirational interlude go to Ted Talks on the link below to see Gustavo Dudamel, the current director of the LA Philharmonic orchestra and graduate of El Sistema, conducting one of the El Sistema youth orchestras.

The Taitokerau Education Trust

This month saw the official launch of the Taitokerau Education Trust – He Waka Mohio ( This trust is determined to raise the skills and educational attainment of our youth based on the Manaiakalani programme (“the hook from heaven”). First rolled out in Tamaki, Auckland in 2007 it has had stunning educational achievements through student centered learning via digital technology. Kids learn, create and share their ideas online and in the classroom learning to use google docs (cloud computing) and other online tools. It opens up all sorts of learning opportunities and creativity for students with teachers and their families. Go to: and watch the journey through the students’ eyes – amazing!

Creating the citizens and workers of the future starts early, getting the foundations right is far more productive and cost-effective than trying to remediate later. Please support these programmes.

David Wilson, CEO
Northland Inc
Northland's Regional Economic Development Agency