Boot camps by their nature are bully camps. I know some young people enjoy the test of their physical skills but for those that don’t, they work by psychological pressure. I haven’t read the text book that says kids thrive being shouted at, marched about the place and having their heads shaved, and what are we teaching them about the State? That we accept bullying? That the Government reserve the right to humiliate you?
I had a great group of young men come into the office Tuesday. They are part of a programme run by the Wellington Kindergarten Association called Y-Men. The Association gives them a job in a kindergarten accompanied by an intensive training programme. This programme also gets funding from WINZ and other sources. They are lads that have been unemployed for some-time and while all of good character (you have to be to be in a Kindergarten), they need some support to get into good jobs and move on.
They are employed above teacher ratios so they are not cheap labour and they are paid a proper wage. The kindergartens that have them working, appear to love having them there. Two goals are met – firstly these young men get a real programme that supports them to plan a future (no one leaves without a plan and the KA follows up on the implementation) and many decide to go into teaching (meeting the goal of the KA to get more young men into early childhood teaching). 7 of the 12 in the group I had in have now begun formal teacher training and the Association continues to support them throughout their study. A new talent pool of young mainly Maori and Pacific men is being created in our teaching service.
The day before, I was interviewed about my objections to the boot camps that WINZ is sending young unemployed people on. The Sunday Star Times had a story of how two of the defence force tutors were on suspension for assaulting and insulting the young people attending. It should be a national scandal. Not only are we not providing enough real opportunities for our young adults to get a good job, we are then, after the hardship of 6 months unemployment, sending them on state run boot camps and humiliating and assaulting them! Paula Bennett is paying for this service!
The contrast with the Y-men programme, both in terms of results and approach couldn’t be greater.
I was once an undercover Boot Camp recruit. No not really. I went with a young person I know to a boot camp seminar that he had been required to attend. It is fair to say I was the oldest one in the room by about 25 years. I insisted on being allowed to attend despite “not being on the list”. 20 young people, in a room, heads down. Don’t catch anyones eye!
If I had been running it I would have got them all talking to each other – what they were doing, what they wanted to do, what they thought of WINZ and life generally. But no – they were told to watch a video (about 20 minutes maybe) which showed some fun and some not so fun activities (depending on your interests), which had some graduates saying how great is was and which showed activities which apparently they didn’t do in the Hutt course (rafting, climbing – just about everything as far as I could tell was not actually on the programme). They shaved their heads.
At the end, the helpful facilitator said she had anticipated all their questions – could they smoke? Yes they could. Could they have cell phones (can’t remember the answer). Up went my hand to ask if the programme was actually voluntary – something omitted from the Q & A thus far. It was, but those that did not go would have this marked on their record. I was unable to get clarity on what this meant – but clearly it was a threat (they were saving the assaults until when you got there).
I did ask what else WINZ could offer if one did not want this hair cut/frog march/smoking/non rafting experience. No answer was forthcoming and we were told to make another appointment if we wanted to discuss other options.
The contrast in the attitude these two WINZ funded programmes takes to these young New Zealand citizens is also extreme. One preserves their status as citizens with rights. It is a programme filling a real market need but with intensive effort to put the young person’s needs first - those needs include a wage, regular employment, training, career discussions and a range of study opportunities to fill learning gaps (driving, literacy, child development etc). No one leaves without a plan and support – consideration of the young person is at the centre of the programme and that means it works. The spin off for the Association is the second benefit – not the first.
On boot camps the graduates spill out into nothingness – back to WINZ – the promise that it will help you get a job was never going to be fulfilled – it was a time filler, funded by a Government that considers you the problem, rather than the failing job market. You even come out with your head shaved – a sure fire attraction to any employer.
We have a real problem in this country with how we regard our young people, particularly in my view, young men. We fundamentally don’t believe or trust them. And more particularly we don’t make any plans for them. As a recent guest of the CTU described it (Guy Standing) we give them no “shadow of a future”. They have a shadow of past and present – but can’t see where they are going or even where they might be able to go. As Guy said without that shadow, they have no reason to be motivated and every reason to behave in a way that we consider opportunist. Shouting and marching them about is not the answer – abusing them and assaulting them is a crime and the police should investigate.
The Y-Men got talking about the work experience they had all had. I showed them the You Tube clip we launched about the death of Ken Callow . This got them talking about the jobs they had had before the programme. It wasn’t a pretty picture. All agreed with Guy Standing that their working life previously was dominated with time needed to find work rather than do work. The programme was giving them real options.
These young men have a story to tell collectively that is much more powerful than any blog would be. No-one is listening at the moment and all in all the situation is very serious indeed.