Recognising potential: Ara Rau empowering youth into meaningful pathways

From left to right: Michelle Clarke, Employment Mentor with Mary Stewart, Operations Manager

Potential often waits for the right environment to flourish, and every young person carries a wealth of untapped abilities and aspirations. It’s our duty to provide the nurturing for them to realise their potential and to activate it. Ara Rau is guided by this philosophy, offering support to youth who have faced adversity and disengagement from traditional education.

Meet Chloe*, a young woman whose pathway epitomises the transformative power of recognising and cultivating potential. At 14-years-old, Chloe developed acute anxiety. Her declining mental health made it difficult for her to leave her bedroom. This began from the trauma of severe bullying at school. Chloe then disengaged from school and stopped attending.

She was referred to Ara Rau by Attendance Tauranga Moana at 15-years-old. Her mother was worried and asked for help. Dedicated Employment Mentors took the time to listen and investigate the type of things Chloe was curious about. They discussed various vocational options, such as hospitality and retail and she began to explore her interests and talents. Through thoughtful guidance and encouragement, Chloe discovered a passion for the beauty industry—a path she had never considered before.

The Ara Rau team then actively facilitated a meaningful pathway toward her goals. With their support, Chloe enrolled in the Certificate in Beauty Level 4 programme at Toi Ohomai, where she thrived and excelled. Alongside her studies, she gained practical experience by working part-time. She obtained her learner’s and restricted driver’s licenses—a testament to her newfound confidence and determination.

Today, Chloe has graduated as one of the top students in her class, secured a job at a Beauty Salon and embarked on a junior apprenticeship in beauty therapy. Now with a clear vision for her future, she plans to further her education and pursue a career in design, aiming for the Bachelor of Creative Industries.

Chloe’s pathway represents just one facet of the Ara Rau program, which recognises each participant not for their past challenges, nor categorises them as lazy or unintelligent, but rather acknowledges their inherent potential. It’s a reminder that disengagement from education doesn’t equate to a lack of ability or drive. Rather, it often reflects systemic challenges, personal struggles, or a mismatch between traditional schooling and individual needs.

By providing tailored support and opportunities for skill development, initiatives like this not only empower individuals but also contribute to addressing broader regional workforce challenges.

Consider the facts: 47% of the Māori population is under 25 and 90% of Ara Rau clients are Māori, who often grapple with unemployment or underemployment. This 47% will continue to reside in the region, potentially contributing to its future workforce or posing challenges for the community. This isn’t due to a lack of ambition or capability but rather reflects issues such as, disengagement, limited access to resources, and societal inequalities.

In this context, Ara Rau serves as a practical solution to remove barriers by offering tailored guidance, and a connection to industry, where employers also benefit from access to a talent pool ready to work and grow. By investing in our youth, we not only address immediate challenges but also pave the way for a stronger, more skilled workforce making our region resilient.

As we celebrate stories like Chloe’s, we recognise the crucial role of programmes like Ara Rau in building confident, robust, and empowered communities.

*Not her real name for privacy reasons.