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With the needs of struggling young New Zealanders becoming greater, so too are the needs for qualified youth workers who can support them. 

Phil Tavai, 32, and Eloni Taulafo, 30, are just two of many youth workers prioritising their professional development in an increasingly challenging sector. They have both just completed their apprenticeship in youth work through Careerforce | Te Pūkenga and, with the level 4 qualification under their belts, the teammates are already moving onto further study.

Meeting the growing demands of struggling youth in South Auckland

QES youth workers Eloni Taulafo (left) and Phil Tavai have completed their level 4 apprenticeship in youth work

Passionate about fostering youth, Phil and Eloni work for Quality Education Services (QES), a youth services provider in South Auckland that is bringing help and hope through free education, career pathways and social services.

Phil, who has a background looking after youth offenders, manages a relatively new team of nine, who support more than 170 youth, between the ages of 16 and 20 years old. Their responsibilities are split into three teams that cover NEET (not in education, employment or training), emergency housing, and young parent and youth payment.

Eloni reports to Phil and sits in the NEET team. On any given day he could be supporting youth to get their driver’s licence, helping them with their CVs, or running budgeting or confidence building workshops. Alongside that there’s distributing food parcels and working with community partners, like the Ōtara Kai Village, to run local youth events. 

Many of the youth who go through QES are referred by the Ministry of Social Development and Oranga Tamariki, but according to Phil “the need for help and hope is high.” 

“At any one time we’re contracted for the NEET team to look after 70 youth, and the youth payment team is contracted to look after 90 but we’re exceeding those numbers.” 

A qualified team is critically important

With the ever-growing demand, Phil says having a qualified team is critically important. Although we have a lot of passionate youth workers, we need to ensure they’re professionally trained. In order to make passion professional, we’ve got to have something that backs up the practice, and the models of practice that would inform the way that we talk or engage with youth so that we’re not free willing it. 

“Anyone that’s come in [to the team], we’ve made sure they’re enrolled in the Careerforce apprenticeship, and which is fully on-job based learning, he says. 

This has been true for Eloni’s introduction to the team, when he joined in 2020. Prior to QES, Eloni was working in the logistics industry as a forklift driver until the Covid-19 lockdown forced him out of a job. 

Eloni says, “A good friend of mine approached me and said, hey bro, there’s an opportunity out at QES where you can become a pastoral care worker. I told him, You know I’ve got no qualifications in youth work’.” 

But Eloni said QES just needed people of good character, great life and people skills, and who could relate to young people. My friend thought I was a good candidate for the role. So, I applied and got it. Internally they just grew me and then [the apprenticeship] happened.” 

Having the right support in place is key to on-job training

Careerforce Apprenticeship Advisor Kailash Devan (3rd from left) has been supporting Phil and his team of youth workers with their apprenticeship programmes

Careerforce Apprenticeship Advisor Kailash Devan has been supporting the QES youth workers with their apprenticeships since former team leader and apprenticeship graduate Futi Ka spurred on the team to enrol. 

Kailash is pleased to see Phil continuing with the development of the team: Phil is such an inspiration. He is such a supportive manager, goes out of his way for his team and supports them in their apprenticeship completion, he says.

As well as prioritising time for his staff to study together at work, Phil also makes sure that they take their self-care seriously. I’ve been around rangatahi enough to know it’s strenuous work and you also may see a lot of stuff in terms of crisis that may challenge you mentally, emotionally and even ethicallyIt’s such a selfless job. 

When I see youth workers taking care of themselves, making sure they’re the best at home and not just the best over here (at QES), from a manager’s point of view, that gives me joy, he says. 

Now that he’s completed his youth work apprenticeship, Phil will be moving on to do his bachelor’s degree in counselling.

Eloni is continuing with on-job training through Careerforce | Te Pūkenga, and is now enrolled in the mental health strand of the apprenticeship.  

While still new to the youth sector, Eloni says the best part of his job is seeing youth reach their goals: “You just get that satisfaction that you had a hand in it.” 

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