Covid-19 has forced some students to ditch their studies to look for work and support families hit hard by lockdown and redundancies.
But today, the Ara Education Charitable Trust and students from 15 South Auckland schools joined forces with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), the Auckland Business Chamber and Auckland Airport to stage a jobs expo.
More than 300 students were there hoping to secure a future in uncertain times, and 30 employers from the hospitality, healthcare, construction and retail sectors were offering more than 1000 vacancies.
Eighteen-year-old Meriam Nai has just graduated from Onehunga High school and is interested in civil engineering. She says when Covid-19 hit, her family relied solely on her mother for income - so she chose work over further study.
"I want to help my family financially, help my mum and have my family get back to being stable," she said.
She was excited about an opportunity at Fulton Hogan - and was nervous but excited about her first ever job interview.
"I just really wanted to break the stereotype of 'women can't do trades' and how it's only a man's job," Meriam said.
Younis Ahamt Abdallah from Māngere College wanted to get into carpentry. Having received a job offer from On Demand Logistics, he reckons the expo was a rare opportunity.
"They're really into it. They're putting a lot of energy into helping us. Some of us are just really shy to ask questions and they just ask themselves. They help us with everything that we need without even us asking them."
The school's engagement manager at Ara Education Charitable Trust, Sarah Redmond, said it's not uncommon for students to drop out to help their families, especially in south Auckland.
"Work availability, what type of work is available, income and families - all those sorts of things that are already existed have now been exacerbated by the Covid situation."
Many students did not have a clear picture of what they wanted to do after graduation and risked staying in entry level jobs for too long, she said.
"Hopefully in the next few years we're going to have a really highly-skilled cohort of young people coming through who will be qualified in the next three to four years and address some of those skill shortages and address some of those income issues that we were talking about."
The MSD and the Auckland Business Chamber have been working to put the students through relevant industry training to equip them for the industries they wish to build a career in.
Students have also been supported in writing their CVs, registering with IRD, getting their learner driver licenses, opening bank accounts and practising interview skills - all to get them ready for the expo.
Auckland Business Chamber general manager for employment Leah Gates was thrilled to see young people meeting would-be employers.
"I'm loving the smiles and the volume and the eye contact and the handshakes - that takes courage for a year 13 graduate and we couldn't be more excited about how well they're doing."
MSD regional commissioner for Auckland South Lynda Smardon said the ministry had partnered with schools to assist students to obtain industry-relevant certificates and the help wouldn't just end today.
"The students are very enthusiastic in came to be able to engage and present themselves, but then after today too, there'll be some follow up to make sure that there is still support for those that may need it in terms of their transition and what what choices they make next."
Smardon also encouraged families to contact MSD to discuss financial hardship so young people may have a better prospect for their future.