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At eighteen, Hastings teacher aide, Willa Sophia Maguire-Harbrow, is doing amazing work supporting children with special needs at Kōwhai Special School.

She firmly believes that her caring nature and admiration for children with special needs started when she was young, when her mother became guardian to Peter who lives with autism. Maguire-Harbrow considers him her brother, and he became her inspiration to pursue this challenging. but very rewarding career.

“If I didn’t have Peter in my life, I seriously wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have so much admiration and respect for people with disabilities. I have met some remarkable people who can remain positive despite the challenges they’re experiencing,” says Maguire-Harbrow. 

PHOTO CAPTION: Willa and her brother, Peter

When she was at school, she was discouraged to follow a career path she wanted because she wasn’t good at sciences, and she became increasingly nervous about her career pathway options. The Hastings Girls’ High School’s Gateway programme became her saving grace.

“I told the Gateway teacher that I wanted to become a teacher or a midwife. She found the Careerforce Health & Wellbeing level 3 certificate in support work that ties in with Gateway and then she got me the work placement at Kowhai Special School.”

Maguire-Harbrow achieved her Level 3 certificate in just three school terms. The certificate normally takes a year to complete. Just before her graduation, an employment opportunity opened up that she didn’t hesitate to grab.

“I found an advertisement for a teacher aide job at my work placement site for the 2018 school year. I quickly rang up and they asked me to submit my CV and cover letter. I was so thrilled to receive the call that I got the job!”

Now, Maguire-Harbrow is being supported by her workplace to achieve yet another national qualification, an apprenticeship in community facilitation with the support of her workplace and industry training organisation, Careerforce.

“I find it very cool and I love that I can do an apprenticeship that’s funded while working and getting paid while learning. I’m very pleased that there is an apprenticeship that ties into working with children with special needs.”

“I am learning a lot and already using some of the strategies I’ve learned through the apprenticeship as I work in the school. It is very rewarding. I’m so proud of myself and happy that I’ve found a job I like and getting some qualifications for it too,” shares Maguire-Harbrow.

Careerforce Central Region Manager, Penny Rogers, said, “Willa is our first Gateway programme graduate that has gone from school to employment, and now to an apprenticeship. This is a real success story and we hope more young people consider this earn and learn pathway.”

Find out more about Careerforce’s Gateway programmes

Find out more about Apprenticeships