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Youth worker Rachel Whiteman knows how important it is for young people to feel that someone has got their back.

Growing up in the Waikato, Rachel says that during her youth her boss “took me in to live with her and encouraged me to make something of myself. It only takes one person to care, so that’s what really drove me to want to become a youth worker.”

Rachel now works with the Southland Youth One Stop Shop and thanks to a new workplace-based training programme, she’s able to support young people in Southland.

The mother of two is studying the New Zealand Certificate in Youth Work (level 4) with the support of her employer and the Industry Training Organisation, Careerforce.

Rachel works with the Southland Youth One Stop Shop and is studying with Careerforce.

The youth worker works with around 20 clients per week, who are all young people aged between 10 and 24-years-old.

For Rachel, a normal day on the job can range from one-on-one mentoring and goal-setting with clients, to facilitating groups such as the creative arts and young humanitarians programmes.

“Our creative arts programme is a great way for people to express their feelings, since through art they can get out what may not be easy to express verbally,” Rachel says.

“For example, I had a client who didn’t like art, and who would barely talk or make eye contact, but through participating in the programme she was able to get part of her life story out on paper and canvas, which was amazing,” she says

Having left school at age 15, Rachel recently passed her Level 1 and 2, and says she is “pretty stoked” to be studying Careerforce’s Youth Work qualification.

“I never thought I would be doing this,” she says of her studies. “I’m very lucky to have such an amazing, helpful team. Their encouragement is very important.”

“So now when I’m working with young people, I always try and emphasise the importance of education and having goals,” she says.

She says that her life experiences have helped her to relate to the young people she works with daily.

Over 4,000 young people are registered with the Southland Youth One Stop Shop, including those attending school as well as those who have left school and are either working, studying or unemployed.

As well as offering an array of social services, Southland Youth One Stop Shop also offers a medical clinic where young people can access nurses and doctors free of charge, which Rachel says is very important for their emotional and physical wellbeing.

Young people are either referred to or self-refer to the mentoring programme, where they undergo a six-week intake process and get matched up with an individual youth coach and mentor.

“This first six weeks is all about us getting to know each other and building rapport,” Rachel says. “Once the six weeks are done, we have a case review with our case manager and we look at identifying and setting goals to achieve through mentoring.”

“We work alongside the young person, so they’re in the driving seat. For young people, having someone to talk to who is safe and confidential is important.”

For Rachel, the most rewarding part of the job is seeing young people grow and develop. “That’s really awesome,” she says.

Are you interested in a career in Youth Work? Check out more Careerforce qualifications here: