About 60 South Auckland students who graduated from a work skills programme last night are hoping to fill skills shortages in the country's largest city.
With beaming smiles and puffed chests, students from Manurewa High School, Tuakau College, and Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate collected their 'licence to work' certificates with some family there in support.
The programme offered through COMET Auckland, a Council Controlled Organisation of Auckland Council, is in its third year and has had about 1200 students since. It teaches workplace skills like communication, teamwork and problem-solving.
For year 12 student James Honemau, it was not just the achievement of undergoing at least 80 hours of a carpentry job placement.
"I was a bad boy," he said. "I was playing around and I wasn't focusing on school."
Last year, he dropped out of school and moved in with his auntie, uncle, and eight cousins.
"I changed from there," Mr Honemau said.
Reaching this milestone meant a lot, he said. He wanted to do it for his uncle and for his dad.
His auntie, Venisi Kautai, said her nephew was "a totally different person". Academically he had grown and his behaviour was different, she said.
Ms Kautai said she shed a tear when her nephew got his certificate.
"We are very, very proud.
"It's really important that we support our children's education ... this is the beginning and hopefully for the best, for the future."
Mr Honemau said he had been offered a building apprenticeship through BCITO which he planned to start in the new year.
Deputy principal at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Shauna Eldridge said her school had been involved since the programme started.
She said all eleven students who graduated in 2015 were now employed or doing further study.
"I don't think three years ago the young students saw themselves in work, or being ready for work or had an experience of work," she said.
"They gradually began to see that in fact they had a future, a pathway, and that there was hope."
This year's cohort were all year 12 boys in the school's trade academy who worked in building, electrical, plumbing and automotive industries.