Nelson Training Centre – Nelson Mail 24.05.16

Located in Crisps Lane off Hardy St the Nelson Training Centre (NTC) flies under the radar a little but it is an important part of the Nelson hospitality community, in fact it would be fair to say it is an important part of the Nelson community.

Established in 1987 at the Naumai Hotel in Bridge St (now Bumbles Backpackers) by George Snowden, who was joined a couple of years later by the current owner David Agnew, the centre has a focus on training for 16 to 19-year-old young people, especially those who the traditional education system didn’t suit, they tend to be hands on learners in an education environment where academic achievement is a big focus.

Agnew originally worked for Snowden as a tutor and they developed a great working relationship so he became part of the business ownership as well as being a tutor; in the early days they delivered an Access Course, courses that were designed to help get unemployed off the benefit and into work, and the course they delivered under this government funded programme was hospitality training.

In the late 1990’s the government of the day capped funding for the Access Courses and smaller organisations were squeezed out of the system so they reinvented themselves as a life skills course at Melrose house for a year before Rob amcKeagney let them use the kitchen in at Horatio’s night club during the day before moving to their current location in Crisps Lane off Hardy St.

They took over a burnt-out shell in 1990 and gradually developed it as they could afford it becoming a properly functional kitchen and training centre in 1992.

Today students can achieve the New Zealand Certificate in Hospitality and NCEA level 2 in Vocational Pathways so they are an important cog in the wheel of the stated government priority of having 85% of young people achieve NECA Level 2 by 2017.

Agnew has now owned the business for about 25 years and when I sat down with him last week I was hugely impressed, not only with the man himself or their tutors or their facilities but with the great young people who have turned their lives around and now have an excellent base education to grow from.

There is a huge shortage of well trained, enthusiastic hospitality staff in Nelson and New Zealand generally so these young people are learning skills that means they won’t just achieve NCEA Level 2 but will have the skills to ensure they have a future.

Agnew says “while we teach front of house skills and cookery basics the most important underlying skills that employers want are motivation, initiative, knowledge of systems, routines, safety & hygiene, communication skills, how to work as a team and even more important is being able to work under pressure and maintain their composure.

“The centre is open as a cafe to the public on Thursday and we run a restaurant on Friday for invited guests so the students certainly learn what pressure is and they know if they don’t work as a team they will have upset diners”.

Along the way these young people also learn some valuable life skills, things like responsibility, turning up on time, having to get out of bed, developing the right attitude, being able to smile at people when they don’t feel like it and the essential understanding that they can do these things.

Knowing this builds their self-confidence, something that is nearly always missing when they start the course.

“Our motto is Attitude Determines Performance, it is our job to guide and encourage as well as educate the students and they soon learn if they don’t do the things we ask then they are letting others down.

“Interestingly we don’t need to pull students into line very often because the other students soon let them know they have let the team down, this sort of peer-to-peer support and motivation is really important, it isn’t the tutors telling them off and that means we can focus on the positive rather than punitive things” say Agnew

The current courses are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and Agnew is justifiably proud of the fact 70-80% of his students complete the course and of that last year 100% got a qualification.

“If they weren’t doing this they would probably be on the streets and the government Youth Guarantee Scheme is really important, it means they see the need to get youth into employment and make sure New Zealand doesn’t end up in the same situation as places like Spain and Greece where youth unemployment is around 50%, it’s really important we don’t end up in that situation.”

Agnew sees his role as getting these young people to a stage they have a base level of skill that an employer can build on and continue guiding them, he says many students who have fallen through the cracks of traditional education systems have gone on to further education once they have been given the self-confidence and base understanding NTC has given them.

When I asked him why has he done this for so long he told me he understands these young people because he failed school and went into the army as a regular force cadet in 1974 where he did his chef training and gained his chef’s City & Guilds Qualifications.

After his time in the army he travelled to Australia & the UK where he worked for many years before opening his own restaurant in Tauranga in 1983,  moving to Nelson in 1987 and that brings us back to the beginning of his involvement with youth training.

Rather than a regimental tutor he is more of a mentor and he says he got so much from the army about life, “can do, will do, doing, done” he wanted to give back to young people.

Agnew has structured the course so it isn’t a start-stop course system, the students can join the course at different times during the year which means they can start throughout the year and don’t have to hang around waiting for a course to start. As one group is finishing another starts so existing students are like mentors to newer students, they become leaders.

And as to self-belief when Agnew asks students what they have learned it nearly always confidence in themselves to be able to do things, a confidence they have never had before.

He says “hospitality is a great environment to learn life skills and self-belief and it is hugely rewarding to me to see them go on to more training in areas they thought they couldn’t do. Self-belief is huge!”

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