While most of her schoolmates were at their desks last Wednesday, Lexi Holmes was waiting on tables.

Not that there was a shortage of desks, or tables, at Raglan Area School.  Rather the outgoing 16 year old was waitressing downtown at a local cafe – and “hopefully”, says The Shack boss Justin Thomson, the experience will lead to a job for Lexi at the end of it.

Lexi in fact already has paid work at the cafe on Sundays while maintaining the midweek work experience on Wednesdays when she’d normally be at school. She started in the kitchen as a “dishie” last October but has progressed now to waiting on tables out front – and welcomes the chance to take on new skills.

“People don’t appreciate how difficult it is to work on the floor,” explains Justin of his young staff member. He believes it’s good that cafe staff get to have an understanding of both sides of the operation. “And it’s a shame to lock her up in the kitchen,” he laughs.

Justin’s also had former area school student Rhythm Robson at the cafe recently, first on work experience days but now, like Lexi, as a weekend employee. He hopes to be able to offer him more hours in the school holidays and during the summer.   

“One of our problems is sourcing local kids who are keen and enthusiastic,” he told the Chronicle. He’s grateful for the opportunity to trial students like Lexi and Rhythm through the school’s work experience and Gateway programmes, then to employ and continue to train them up at the weekends.  And that, he says, is because “it’s a real problem getting skilled staff (here)”.

Area school deputy principal Quenten Browne says he “values and appreciates” the support from local businesses in stepping up and giving senior students valuable work experience.

Raglan Engineering, Raglan i-SITE, the Local Eatery and Orca Restaurant & Bar have all taken on one or more students recently, he says, while other students have picked up farming skills in Te Mata and one adventurous teen is exploring adventure tourism with Raglan Rock.

The school is making a big effort, Quenten explains, to align its students’ learning experience with “industry-specific” skills needed in the workforce. This depends on cooperation between the school, the workplaces involved and the students themselves.

Students can gain NCEA credits through work experience in their chosen sector, adds Gateway administrator Kris Thorpe, who is “pretty happy” with the level of support she’s seen from Raglan businesses during her three years or so in the job. “Seventy-five percent of our students also get some paid work out of their weekly experience,” she says.

Some go into Hamilton too and complete the Warehouse Red Shirts programme which gives them a 10-day in-store retail experience, plus 27 credits towards NCEA.

Meanwhile a barista course is in the offing at the area school. It’s an initiative taken on by food technology teacher Stevie Gardiner, who is being trained up by a barista so she can in turn train school students in the art of making a good coffee. The equipment needed is being set up in the food tech room, or kitchen.

Lexi, for one, is keen to train up. Hopefully, she says, her boss back at The Shack will then “let me have a go on the machines at work”.

Edith Symes