When Turaukawa Sam Bartlett’s son was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, he and his wife decided to take a new direction in life together. As his wife studied to become a counsellor, Turaukawa worked towards completing his apprenticeship in Mental Health and Addiction Support. Prior to that, he had been a butcher for ten years, a job that, by his own admission, wasn’t working for him.

Their son is now seven; he is non-verbal and reaping the benefits of his parents’ choices. However, Turaukawa hopes his training will allow him to make an impact beyond his immediate family, and help whānau overcome struggles with addiction.

And last night, his efforts were rewarded as he was awarded the Maori Trainee of the Year award and monetary prize.

“Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini,” he said, which translates to “My success is not just my own” in acknowledgement of the role played by his whānau in supporting him on his educational journey.

Turaukawa was among 33 people to graduate last night with the inaugural wave of Health and Wellbeing Apprenticeships, launched by Careerforce in 2016.

It was a momentous occasion. Each graduate took the stage to great applause. Women and men of all ages and ethnicities were represented among the graduates, who had come from all over New Zealand to receive their award at the special awards evening, held during the 2017 Careerforce Workforce Development Conference in Wellington.

Christina Taefu was awarded the Pasifika Trainee of the Year. Her father and fiancé had flown down from Auckland especially for the occasion.

Careerforce Trainee of the Year went to Roxana Thornton, who set up the ‘Music Moves Me Canterbury’ Trust for people with dementia.

“Guess what?” she said to the audience, upon receiving her award, “We’re all going to get old one day, so let’s hope there’s someone like me to look after you!”

Careerforce Apprentice of the Year went to Katrina Collins.

The apprenticeships were completed in a number of different speciality areas, including Community Facilitation, Social Services, and Mental Health and Addiction Support.

Heidi Topham and Aimee MacDonald were the only two to receive their apprenticeships in Brain Injury Rehabilitation Support. Both working mums, they spurred each other along to complete their apprenticeships in almost half the time.

“I would often study between 3am and 6am, and then 8pm and 12pm,” said Heidi, mother to an 11, 14 and 17 year old.

They both find their line of work truly rewarding.

“I always think, ‘what can I do to make life better for them?’” Aimee says of her clients. She shared with fondness tales of helping a client in his 40s with a brain injury relearn to ride a bike, and of enabling a blind man to relearn to fly a plane.

The Workforce Development Employer of the Year award went to Presbyterian Support Northern.

“For those of you who work in home care, you’ll know money is sometimes a bit tight – but our board has not once said to stop training staff,” said general manger Andrea McLeod upon receiving the award.

“I’ve been to a number of graduations and there’s not once that I haven’t been moved to tears.”

Her sentiments echoed those of the audience, as many stood to congratulate the first wave of graduates.

Few were prouder than Careerforce chief executive Ray Lind.

“This is what it all comes down to for us as an organization, empowering personal growth and positive change for our trainees and apprentices and the people they support,” he said.

The Careerforce Workforce Development Conference, held this week in Wellington, has focused on continuing to raise the status of New Zealand’s care and disability workforce.

As Master of Ceremonies Te Radar remarked, it is not GDP or other economic measures, but the efforts of these people that are a true marker of who we are as New Zealanders.

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