Growing up in South Auckland suburb of Otara gave youth worker Rocky Misiepo a good insight into the many challenges facing young people in his community.
“I think I understand the dynamic of our people and our culture, so I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and help our young people,” he says.
With a strong background in the music industry and a fulltime retail manager at an Otahuhu clothing store, Mr Misiepo found himself interacting with troubled youth on a daily basis, so decided to give his true passion a try.
He approached Genesis Youth Trust, an organisation combining youth work, social work, mentoring, counselling, family therapy and whanau programmes to promote positive lifestyle changes to at-risk youth and their families.
Starting out as a volunteer, Mr Misiepo is now a youth worker and with the backing of his organisation he has completed the National Certificate in Youth Work (Level 3), a workplace-based qualification developed and facilitated by industry training organisation Careerforce.
“Having the Careerforce on-job training opportunity opened doors for me to help the dots connect and give me the opportunity to set my training curriculum with Genesis Youth Trust,” he says.
He says workplace training was a great option for him, as he could continue earning a living to support his family through his retail manager job while studying a qualification he loves.
Also, thanks to a Peer Mentoring programme overseen by Careerforce, Rocky took part in a national research project, entitled Pacific Learner Success in Workplace Settings, which explored ways to boost the success of Pacific learners engaged in workplace training.
The research study, commissioned by Ako Aotearoa, the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence and carried out by the ITOS Careerforce, Skills, ServiceIQ and Competenz, contains findings and recommendations on how to best support Pacific learners to succeed in industry-based training programmes.
One of the key report findings showed that the portrait of a typical Pacific household is one where looking after family comes first, before work or education commitments
Mr Misiepo agrees, sharing his own experience that upon leaving college he opted to find work over seeking tertiary education, simply so he could help support his parents and two siblings.
“It was all about family first – for me, tertiary education didn’t kick in until much later,” he says. “I think that’s the economic reality for many families.”
Of Niuean descent, Mr Misiepo says the peer mentoring programme and study support group overseen by Careerforce and run by Genesis Youth Trust helped him and his Pacific colleagues support and motivate each other through their Youth Work qualification.
“It was a great way to learn as it allowed us to share experiences of working with our young people, and so gave me a different perspective on where some of these kids are coming from,” he says.
Mr Misiepo left mainstream school in seventh form and enrolled in an alternative education programme, a music course which he says helped develop his natural passion for music.
“Growing up, music was just a part of everyday life, hanging with the boys in the backyard,” he says.
10 years ago, he successfully turned his passion for singing and songwriting into a collaborative album, released by Colourway Recordz.
Today he regularly volunteers with local independent radio station Rep FM and works with their programme, Passion to Profession, which gives young up and coming artists’ opportunities to learn the ropes in the music industry.
Rocky says his passion for helping young people inspired him take the plunge and take on further tertiary training to become a youth worker.
“On my weekends, I also work with juveniles who have been sentenced to a residential home in my neighborhood, so my role is to engage with these kids with the aim of reducing and preventing youth offending by connecting them into positive community activities and getting them interested in education, employment and training opportunities,” he says.
“A lot of our young people are referred to us from NZ Police, Child Youth and Family Services, as well as local Schools.
“I enjoy working as a one-on-one mentor because I feel the young person benefits more. I’ve grown up in that environment and see both sides of the spectrum.”
He says he’d love to combine his experience in music, retail management and youth work to inspire and guide South Auckland youth to tap into their own creative talent and make better life choices.