Jack standing next to staff members

Jack’s Story

Career Navigator Toroa helps students soar to new heights.

Jack Collier is a bright young man, who is going places – quite literally. He’s recently bought a car to get him to and from his new full-time job, and says it’s a great symbol of his newfound freedom. For a young man with a passion for cars, it couldn’t be a more appropriate symbol for how far he has come.

Go back in time twelve months and it was a different story. Jack was unemployed and “stuck in a rut”. He’d finished school about two years before and had lost a sense of where to go next. His mother, Katrina Sowden, says she was finding it difficult to motivate him to do anything, because of his anxiety. “He’d lost his drive, good habits and routines – all he wanted to do was hang out with his friends”.

With some prompting and support from his family, Jack signed up for the Toroa Career Navigator programme, which was to prove a real catalyst for change. Toroa is a programme run by local charity, the Graeme Dingle Foundation Marlborough. It is especially designed to help 15–25-year-olds in Marlborough who aren’t in work or training, but are keen to be.

The Toroa programme involves pairing the young people with mentors, and taking them out on worksite visits – coupled with lots of skill, knowledge and confidence building. The students develop skills that help prepare them for the world of work, as well as personality profiling and understanding their strengths, and they come away with a career action plan and the materials (such as a CV and interview skills) to help put that plan into action.  

Toroa Coordinator, Rachel Rodger says “we could see that Jack had potential, he just needed the confidence to really soar. Part-way into the programme it became obvious he had made the decision to change his life. It was like a switch had been flicked. If you could see how far he’s come… his progress is unbelievable!”

Through his sessions in Toroa, Jack discovered he could put his practical skills and passion for driving to good use in the viticulture industry. One of Jack’s mentors, Patricia Miranda-Taylor is a winemaker at Wither Hills. Patricia enjoyed working with Jack and the other students and said, “it is so rewarding to be able to make a contribution as a mentor and help someone change their life in such a positive way”.

In a stroke of serendipity, Patricia was able to point him in the direction of a cadetship opportunity that had arisen at Wither Hills, and – supported by Rachel and Assistant Vineyard Manager, Brent Thomson – he put his best foot forward in applying. He fronted with his newly-minted CV and cover letter and performed well at his interview (thanks to the practice he’d put in during Toroa’s mock interview practice). But the clincher he says was having Rachel’s support through the interview process. “I couldn’t have done that part on my own. That kind of thing had just got ‘too hard’ for me at that time, so having Rachel there every step of the way made the difference”.

Shortly after, he was delighted to hear he had his first job! He has now been working on his cadetship for almost six months. “And now I’m in there at Wither Hills I’m all good. Definitely more confident. I just needed a hand to get started, to take those first steps. But Rachel and Patricia still check in with me, make sure I’m going ok”.

Rachel says that support has been important for Toroa students’ success. “That scaffolding support as they transition to the workplace is really key. It makes them feel more comfortable about putting themselves out there, it alleviates their anxiety, and it helps them succeed. And in Jack’s case, it’s really an ‘it takes a village’ story. Patricia, Brent (Jack’s boss) and his team at Wither Hills are familiar with what we do at Graeme Dingle Foundation and in Toroa, they’re great supporters and they really ‘get it’. It means they’re able to support young people they employ in a really holistic, supportive manner. That’s gold.”

Brent says it’s exciting to see Jack “performing better and better all the time, as he learns the different aspects of the role and becomes more comfortable with what he’s doing”.

Jack’s Mum, Katrina adds “One of the best things about Toroa is it teaches the young people about themselves, so they are more aware of things they might be good at or enjoy. Jack is way more energetic, a lot happier, and feels good about himself. I am so proud of Jack and how far he’s come, and you can see he’s proud of himself too.”

Jack says “pre-Toroa Jack” would not believe it if he could see him now: “He would say ‘no way that’s happened! You legend!’”.

His advice to other young people not sure about their future path? “Do the course. It will set you up and show you how easy it really is to give things a go. Then don’t look back, just trust your instincts and keep going forward”.