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Mt Ruapehu offers more than just a great day on the snow

Mt Ruapehu offers a lot more opportunity than just a great day on the snow. For locals looking for work the mountain at the centre of their community, it offers an opportunity for crucial on-the-job skills training.

Each year Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL), which operates both Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas, offers cadetships to up to 20 people across all area of its business and the 2018 cadetship has recently finished.

Run in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, the cadetship incorporates qualifications from ServiceIQ and training, with activities provided by the Outdoors Pursuit Centre. There is a strong focus on jobseekers in and around Ohakune and Raetihi for Turoa ski field, and Taumarunui, National Park and Turangi for Whakapapa.

The programme was conceived five seasons ago as part of the Ruapehu Whanau Transformation (RWT) Plan devised to upskill locals and improve employment prospects. Cadetships have been open to local candidates with a connection to the local area and receiving a Work and Income benefit.

RAL General Manager Whakapapa Jono Dean, says that it’s a privilege for the organisation to be involved in helping grow their local community through the programme.

"Since joining the organisation in June this year, I've been overwhelmed by the quality of local candidates who have filled the cadet roles throughout our ski area operations.

"Their engagement with our guests and ability to share the ‘local stories’ has been of significant value to our organisation. The diversity and fresh thinking the cadets have delivered this year has been a true asset and reinforces the value the program delivers to the overall visitor experience.”

The cadetship involves a classroom component where participants learn about the ski area, customer service and kaitiaki before moving into full time roles over winter. Previous cadets have returned in subsequent season to supervisor positions.

“The advantage for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts is in really strengthening our connection to our local community. When we’re out holding information evenings in the area we really focus on the range of job opportunities we have in the business," Jono says.

“It’s not all about having to be an amazing skier so you can be a ski instructor. Not everybody realises that. We need people to work in field operations on lifts and roads, we need staff in the rentals department, as well as food and beverage and customer relations."

Successful cadetship applicants are given a 17-week placement in a front line department, depending where RAL has the most need. Some may switch between departments as the need changes during the season.

On the job skills learned vary depending on which part of RAL cadets work in, but the over-riding focus is on customer service. Lift attendants also finish with a lift qualification and food and beverage cadets come out with food safety training.

“What we want for these successful cadets is to come out with a good level of baseline customer service skills that they can build on and which will help launch them into other jobs, either with us on the mountain or in other businesses,” Jono says.

But it’s not all work and no play. Part of the classroom-based part of the programme includes a ski or snowboard lesson and following that cadets are given the same benefits as other RAL employees, which includes a season pass and free group lessons.

They also get to be out on the snow either in ride breaks or in their days off, depending on the department they work in.

Terry Curran, Regional Labour Market Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development says the benefits to the community of the cadetship are huge.

“There are obviously pragmatic reasons to support the cadetship in that it helps get people off the benefit and saves taxpayer money, but the benefits to the community go well beyond.

“It makes a real difference to people’s lives in terms of more intangible things like self-worth, and maybe setting a good example for other family members. And it removes a lot of obstacles for some locals in finding work as it includes things like transport.”

He adds that he’d like to see knowledge of the cadetship grow to other regions and, as new features such as the government backed $25 million gondola come on online see cadets required all year round rather than just over the snow season.

Comments from cadet Paige Jones-Hepi, Turangi:

Why did you apply for the cadetship programme?
I had been struggling to find a job for almost six months while on the Job Seeker Benefit through WINZ, so when my aunt suggested to apply for the cadetship with Ruapehu Alpine Lifts - after hearing about her own experience within the program - I contacted my case manager to apply instantly.

What have you gained from the programme?

Skills, knowledge and experience. I have gained many skills through this programme such as customer service, financial budgeting and plenty of knowledge about Maori culture, which were very useful when tourists would ask about the history of the mountain itself. Not only have I gained many skills but also a whole lot of experience which has then opened my eyes to the possibility of a long time future career in Tourism.

How might you use the skills/knowledge you learned through the cadetship going forward?
Customer service is a skill you’ll always need to have no matter the job you’re applying for, employers will always look for potential employees that have great customer focused skills and experience. Due to the cadetship programme I gained these skills and have already found myself another job for the summer at a waterpark.

Would you recommend the programme to others?

Definitely! I’ve already suggested it to many of my friends who are also struggling to get their feet grounded. I highly recommend this programme to anyone who is struggling to find a job or looking to gain useful skills and experience for future careers.

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