WelTec and Rimutaka Prison partnership provides light at the end of the tunnel
Over 100 men at Rimutaka Prison will hold their heads up a little higher ahead of Christmas following graduation ceremonies held to recognise their successful completion of WelTec programmes done ‘behind the wire’ qualifying them in trade certificates Levels 2 and 3.
This successful partnership between WelTec and Rimutaka Prison has seen 493 men enrol in WelTec’s Level 2 Vocational Pathways programme, and 141 continue onto Level 3 programmes, since it started in 2008 with 16 students.
“We started training men inside Rimutaka Prison with 16 students doing a pilot scheme in painting and decorating 12 years ago,” says Nigel Phillipson, Construction Programme Manager at WelTec who has been leading the programme on behalf of WelTec since then.
“To see the numbers grow and witness men learn new skills which could change the direction of their lives, has been hugely satisfying and we are pretty proud of it.”
Anthony ‘Ants’ Puki, Principal Instructor for the Department of Corrections at Rimutaka, has been integral to this journey and has worked in partnership with Nigel on the WelTec programmes since the courses were trialled in 2008. Ants has worked at Rimutaka for over 20 years.
Thanks to the determination and hard work of Nigel and Ants, and commitment from WelTec and Corrections, behind the walls at Rimutaka, students can now successfully graduate from the Level 2 Vocational Pathways course into New Zealand Certificate Level 3 Carpentry and allied trades which include - Painting & Decorating, Plumbing, Plastering and Tiling.
The ‘house building’ or Carpentry module as part of this, is popular among students. “Building that house has great kudos,” says Ants. “It is a real buzz for the guys to know they are building a house for a whānau on the outside. They really feel like they are giving back,” he says.
“If we get these guys trained up in useful skills there is more chance of them reintegrating into society,” Ants explains. “And there is plenty of opportunity for employment in the construction sector. The courses are an opportunity for the guys, who have potential, to choose a different path when they get to the outside. And we have seen it happen.”
“We have had guys say to us at graduation that this is the first thing they have ever passed and that the feeling of self-worth and pride is new for them. Just hearing that makes it worthwhile,” says Ants.
Ants and his team of custodial staff work closely with the WelTec tutors to ensure the classes are delivered to prisoners from three workshops around Rimutaka Prison.
“It is important we keep the tutors safe and feeling comfortable.They teach behind the wire, so it is our duty to protect them. We operate as a partnership. The prisoners are students, the tutors are teachers and my staff are custodians. It has worked well for 12 years because there is respect for everybody’s role, it’s an education team. We build trust and rapport, and together work towards graduating the men. We keep integrity in the place, but we also keep standards. Everyone is held to account.
“We operate according to five principles of Ara Poutama Aotearoa – Department of Corrections: Wairua, Whānau, Manaaki, Kaitiaki and Rangatira. Prison staff conduct themselves according to these values. It is a culture our Department has carefully developed and our custodial team live these values in their everyday duties.”
Ants explains how the idea is to get the students started in the Level 2 programme, and progress to Level 3.
“The goal is to retain them, to finish what they started,” he says. “Many of our guys have not finished well on the outside with many things - this is an opportunity for them to finish something, learn a new skill. And it could lead to a job."
“But the programme is not only about skills,” says Nigel, “it’s about numeracy and literacy, it’s about how to manage yourself, and timekeeping, and communication. It is about how to be part of a bigger team and avoid unhelpful triggers."
“This is part of we call ‘staircasing’ the prisoners, helping them prepare for re-integration,” explains Ants.
“Our aim is for them to be able to find a new pathway when they are released, if that man, who we have upskilled is given confidence that he can earn honestly, and does not return to prison - then we have done our job. My staff want to see that too, it is rewarding for them to be part of someone turning their life around.
“I say to the guys that because they come from here, they have to work harder and smarter, because they have to prove to the outside they can succeed at this and are worth employing. ‘You will be judged’, I say, ‘so you have to give 200%’,” says Ants.
John*, is someone who took Ants’ advice to heart.
John, started on the Level 2 programme, progressed to Level 3 and is now finishing his qualification on the outside and will be following on with his Level 4 next year. John is proving the pathway to qualifications and employment for the men from Rimutaka Prison, is a possibility.
An important step in this process is the assistance men like John get from Corrections to re-enter into the WelTec courses and to find associated employment in the trades. Merelle Harvey, Recruitment Consultant for the Wellington District at Corrections is a key part of this.
“We help put things in place so men like John can continue with their study and with employment - it could be around travel, or learning about digital or other societal changes, linking with employers, supporting at job interviews and offering in-work support, we help scaffold their integration, we want it to be a success,” says Merelle.
“The support we get from WelTec with this is phenomenal. Both inside and outside, they go over and above. This step into the outside is critical, we need to help give the men self belief and encourage them to have aspirations beyond what got them into trouble in the first place.”
John tells his story about how he went from being in prison, to setting sights on owning his own business - with the help of the WelTec coursework, and guidance from his tutors.
“For me, the WelTec course has been about moving forwards,” he says. “This is about onwards and upwards.
“It has been a long journey for me, I have had a lot to deal with in life, but now I have taken control and have ambitions to use my new skills to build a house for my family in the place I come from in Taranaki.”
John, who focused on successfully completing as many WelTec courses during his time in Rimutaka Prison, including Level 3 in Plumbing, Plastering, Welding and Painting, is now completing his Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trades Skills, Carpentry ‘on the outside’.
Ants taught John at Rimutaka, “John had an ‘I can do this attitude, I will not let people down’ - and he is proving himself that's for sure,” says Ants.
John works closely with his tutors and will soon graduate alongside his classmates from WelTec and will have been part of a team that has built a house. The house will be given to Housing New Zealand, as part of a supply agreement with WelTec and will become someone’s warm, dry, home.
“I am loving it,” says John. “I wake up early and do at least an hour of hard cardio training every day, then I come to WelTec for my hands-on study and work, and in the evenings I have paid work on a demolition site in the city."
This is not always easy for John who has not had to navigate ‘normal’ daily life for 10 years. "I have to do all my study in a notebook, not online like the others. And I know nothing about Facebook. I don’t have a car yet, so, look at all my public transport tickets for trains and buses,” he laughs.
“When I first came out, I took out my unused train tickets for the conductor - and he had to explain to me that the train company had changed!"
“But I am saving up for a ute, because with the qualifications I get, I want to start my own handyman business.’
John wants to be his own boss. “I want to put my hands to use, I want to build a vege garden and grow my own food, I want to fix up houses, and help my family fix their houses.”
The pathway WelTec is encouraging for John is to get a job, so that he can complete his New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4) as a carpentry apprentice, which will require another four years of study and work, before he sets up his own business with the right qualifications and work experience to back him.
“I need to lay the groundwork for my own business. I have cleared a wall at home where I have put up all my certificates, now there will be space for this course too. My wall of ambition and achievement.”
Tala, John’s WelTec tutor explains how they provide support beyond just the coursework. WelTec offers support services to help with attendance, to provide mentors, and to make time outside the course to help those who may have fallen behind on coursework. Once students have completed Level 3, they help students with an exit strategy assisting with job interviews to create a pathway into a managed apprenticeship Level 4."
When asked what the pivotal moment was for John in turning his life around, he describes a phone call from his mother a year before he was released, during which she probed him about what he would do when he got out.
“That made me really think, who am I? What do I want? And where do I want to be? That is when I thought about what it would take to have my own business."
“I am turning a negative into a positive. Someone once said to me: a person without a vision will perish. Well, now I am making my vision a reality. My work, my family, that is my motivation.”
*This is not his real name.