WelTec and Rimutaka Prison Team up to Build Social Housing

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WelTec and Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (previously Housing New Zealand/HLC/Kiwibuild) have signed a housing supply agreement whereby houses built by WelTec students in Porirua, Petone and Rimutaka Prison, will be placed in the Porirua, Hutt Valley and Palmerston North communities for families in need.

The houses are being built by students undertaking the New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (Level 3) Carpentry.

The students at Rimutaka are close to finishing one house, four will be completed on the WelTec campus and two on the Whitireia campus. Nine students will be graduating from the programme in Rimutaka, 71 from Petone and 31 from Whitireia.

Neil McDonald, Head of School Construction and Engineering WelTec and Whitireia, explains how late last year a five-year agreement was signed with Kāinga Ora whereby WelTec and Whitireia would supply up to 11 houses each year which would go to families in the Hutt Valley and Porirua.

This gives the students even more of a sense of purpose and pride, knowing that what they are building will provide a family with a warm, dry house,” says Neil.

Anthony ‘Ants’ Puki Principal Instructor at Rimutaka Prison explains that it is a real buzz for the guys to know they are building a house for a whānau  on the outside. “They really feel like they are giving back, he says.

The programmes that students complete at Rimutaka Prison and the qualifications gained are the same as the programmes delivered by WelTec and Whitireia at their campuses in Petone and Porirua. WelTec tutors teach trades and technical skills including literacy and numeracy in the prison workshops, supported by Corrections’ custodial officers.

“The graduates have achieved something mighty in completing this certificate” says Patrick Dougherty, Deputy Chief Executive Construction and Innovation at Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities.

“This partnership with WelTec and Whitireia is an important one for Kāinga Ora.

“It helps us meet our build targets, which get bigger every year so we can meet New Zealand’s housing needs, so the fact this will also be helping to train more builders, is a fantastic resource for us and our future build partners.”

This successful partnership between WelTec and Rimutaka Prison has seen 493 men enrol in WelTec’s Level 2 Vocational Pathways programme, and 141 continue onto Level 3 programmes, since it started in 2008 with 16 students.

“We started training men inside Rimutaka Prison with 16 students doing a pilot scheme in painting and decorating 12 years ago,” says Nigel Phillipson, Construction Programme Manager at WelTec who has been leading the programme on behalf of WelTec since then.

WelTec Rimutaka Graduation the 2 bedroom house on Rimutaka grounds

“We are extremely proud of our high graduation rate,” says Nigel who has managed the programme within Rimutaka Prison in partnership with Ants for twelve years.

“The partnership has been a great success. If we get these guys trained up in useful skills there is more chance of them reintegrating into society,” he says. “And there is plenty of opportunity for employment in the construction sector.”

One of the WelTec carpentry students,  who started working on a house while at Rimutaka, will be finishing one of the houses on the other side of the wire in Petone.

Below is his story:

John*, started on the Level 2 programme at Rimutaka Prison, progressed to Level 3 and is now finishing his qualification on the outside and will be following on with his Level 4 next year. John is proving the pathway to qualifications and employment for the men from Rimutaka Prison is a possibility.

An important step in this process is the assistance men like John get from Corrections to re-enter into the WelTec courses and to find associated employment in the trades. Merelle Harvey, Corrections Recruitment Consultant is a key part of this.

“We help put things in place so men like John can continue with their study  and with employment - it could be around travel, or learning about digital or other societal changes, linking with employers, supporting at job interviews and offering in-work support. We help scaffold their integration, we want it to be a success,” says Merelle.

The support we get from WelTec with this is phenomenal. Both inside and outside, they go over and above. This step into the outside is critical, we need to help give the men self-belief and encourage them to have aspirations beyond what got them into trouble in the first place.

John tells his story about how he went from being in prison, to setting sights on owning his own business - with the help of the WelTec coursework, and guidance from his tutors.

“For me, the WelTec course has been about moving forwards,” he says. “This is about onwards and upwards.

“It has been a long journey for me, I have had a lot to deal with in life, but now I have taken control and have ambitions to use my new skills to build a house for my family in the place I come from in Taranaki.”

John, who focused on successfully completing as many WelTec courses during his time in Rimutaka Prison, including Level 3 in Plumbing, Plastering, Welding and Painting, is now completing his Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trades Skills, Carpentry on the outside.

Ants taught John at Rimutaka, “John had an ‘I can do this attitude, I will not let people down’ - and he is proving himself that's for sure,” says Ants.

John works closely with his tutors and will soon graduate alongside his classmates from WelTec and will have been part of a team that has built a house. The house will be given to Kāinga Ora, as part of a supply agreement with WelTec and will become someone’s warm, dry, home.

I am loving it,” says John. “I wake up early and do at least an hour of hard cardio training every day, then I come to WelTec for my hands-on study and work, and in the evenings I have paid work on a demolition site in the city.

This is not always easy for John who has not had to navigate normal daily life for 10 years. "I have to do all my study in a notebook, not online like the others. And I know nothing about Facebook. I don’t have a car yet, so, look at all my public transport tickets for trains and buses,” he laughs.

“When I first came out, I took out my unused train tickets for the conductor - and he had to explain to me that the train company had changed!"

“But I am saving up for a ute, because with the qualifications I get, I want to start my own handyman business.”

John wants to be his own boss. “I want to put my hands to use, I want to build a vege garden and grow my own food, I want to fix up houses, and help my family fix their houses.”

The pathway WelTec is encouraging for John is to get a job, so that he can complete his New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4) as a carpentry apprentice. This will require another four years of study and work, before he sets up his own business with the right qualifications and work experience to back him.

“I need to lay the groundwork for my own business. I have cleared a wall at home where I have put up all my certificates, now there will be space for this course too. My wall of ambition and achievement.”

Tala, John’s WelTec tutor, explains how they provide support beyond just the coursework. WelTec offers support services to help with attendance, provide mentors, and make time outside the course to help those who may have fallen behind on coursework. Once students have completed Level 3, they help students with an exit strategy assisting with job interviews to create a pathway into a managed apprenticeship Level 4.

When asked what the pivotal moment was for John in turning his life around, he describes a phone call from his mother a year before he was released, during which she probed him about what he would do when he got out.

“That made me really think, who am I? What do I want? And where do I want to be? That is when I thought about what it would take to have my own business."

“I am turning a negative into a positive. Someone once said to me: a person without a vision will perish. Well, now I am making my vision a reality. My work, my family, that is my motivation.”

*This is not his real name.