On road to employment: Project helps students to get driving licences

Dozens of high school students in Taranaki are on the road to employment after completing a driving-skills programme with a stunt driver among its trainers.

A driving project in the Taranaki district is helping students with getting their driving licences. Photo: 123RF

The Taranaki Futures project aims to remove the barriers some students face getting their restricted licence – which is a key ingredient for entering the work force.

Three schools are taking part in the programme including two from rural towns – Waitara High School and Inglewood High School. The third is Spotswood College in New Plymouth.

Taranaki Futures general manager Belinda Mooney said the programme had deliberately targeted country schools.

Taranaki Futures general manager Belinda Mooney. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

“We know from extensive research which has been conducted across the country that students in rural areas are immediately at a disadvantage with regards to gaining their licence because of the simple fact that the testing stations are further away the barriers to getting to the facilities are higher,” Ms Mooney said.

The students get help with their driving theory and receive three free lessons with the AA backed up with practical experience behind the wheel with a group of 12 mentors — one of whom was a driver trainer with the British police.

“This stunt driver is Sue Kelly who is a fantastic individual and she comes to us with 30 years experience at Scotland Yard. She was driver training through that, so emergency driving and that kind of thing, so again (she has) skills for assessing safety and she‘s able to pass on some fantastic skills to our students.”

Getting a driver‘s licence was about more than access to the road, Ms Mooney said.

“When you stand back and look at it the benefits of holding a licence are much more than access to the road. It‘s about independence, it‘s about being in the maybe employ pile rather than the can‘t employ pile.”

Waitara trucking company Wills Contracting director Kelly Lehmann was one of the mentors.

Wills Contracting director Kelly Lehmann with Emily O‘Carroll. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He admitted to having a vested interest in helping the teenagers with their driving skills.

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“Obviously having trucks I had the opportunity to do it, but at the same time these young guys on the road can be a menace to us in our big trucks and just [improving] their confidence on the road makes everybody‘s life on the road a lot better and obviously it‘s me giving back as well.”

Mr Lehmann said the mentors‘ job was to help with the basics.

“Obviously it‘s structured with the three driving lessons through the AA. The benefit of us is helping them through the day-to-day the one, two, three of driving. The easy stuff that‘s just time behind the wheel and understanding and seeing what they are seeing and trying to show them what we see as well.”

Waitara High School student Kylie Shramka, 16, said the programme had been a God send for her.

“I live with my gran and she has trouble getting into town sometimes. She has limited mobility so it‘s really hard for her to just get up and get into the car and drive.

Kylie hoped that with a driver‘s licence she would be able to contribute more around the home.

“I‘m hoping to help out my gran a little more and get a job so I can help out with the bills and stuff.”

For schoolmate Tangata Healey, 17, driving was serious business.

“Driving is fun for me because I want more youth to drive on the road without crashing.”

He was enjoying getting the basics nailed down.

“Going around corners you‘ve got to slow down and make sure you control the car and use two hands.”

So far 50 students have completed their learner‘s licence through the Taranaki Futures programme which is funded via a $50,000 from the New Plymouth District Council.

Mayor Neil Holdom, who has a rural background, said the programme was a “win-win” for tradies, small businesses and teenagers looking for their first job.

“This has been a project that‘s been close to my heart so I‘m absolutely thrilled to see 50 teenagers get their learner driver‘s licence.

“Not all kids get the help they need to learn to drive so this scheme is great for those who want their restricted driver licence as they leave school and head out into the workforce. I‘d like to a say a big ‘thank you‘ as well to the 12 mentors who stepped up to help the students.”

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