2 January 2014
The work of the New Zealand Defence Force’s Youth Development Unit (YDU) has become one of the NZDF’s success stories in recent years.
Since 2010 over 7500 young people have passed through one of its programmes, and now the benefits it delivers have been recognised overseas - late last year the Cook Islands Police and High Commission asked the unit to run a programme there.
The YDU has a structure similar to an Army battalion, with headquarters at Burnham Military Camp near Christchurch and three sub-units, at Hobsonville (Auckland), Trentham (Upper Hutt) and Burnham.
Its two programmes are the Limited Service Volunteers, for 18-25 year old registered unemployed people, supported by Work and Income (about 1500 places a year); and Youth Life Skills (over 1000 places a year), which provides a variety of motivational courses and activities for 12-17 year olds. These are supported by several government departments and youth organisations, such as the NZ Police-supported Blue Light programme and the Ministry of Education, through high school Service Academy programmes.
The unit employs over 120 serving and retired Regular Force and Reserve personnel, who have all undergone rigorous screening and completed specialist training for the job.
Retiring director Wing Commander (WGCDR) Brett Marshall, who leaves the NZDF this month to spend time with his mother, who is in failing health, says the NZDF can be proud of what it’s achieving, especially with the more troubled young people.
Many have gone on to employment, some into the military – but every single one has been worthy of the time and effort, he says.
“I can honestly say the last three years have been the most rewarding of my career – it hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been part of an incredible team of committed people who just want to give these kids a chance.
“When we go to places like Afghanistan, the Solomons or East Timor we go there so the people that live there have a better future – we may do it through peacekeeping, or as United Nations observers, or security operations. But the YDU courses we run here in New Zealand mean our own young people have a far better future, thanks to our military skillsets.
“YDU courses teach young people to work well in a team, to reach their potential and to go a lot further than they possibly thought they could.”
Whilst the married father of two is proud of his achievements within the YDU, he is adamant that it’s the staff at the coalface who deserve the real accolades.
“They do incredible work and sacrifice time with their own families – some of them work extremely long hours and it does take a toll,” he says.
The Cook Islands course involved 30 troubled youths and was a great success, he says.
“A number of the graduates went straight into employment after the course, the media got involved and when the trainees were doing their final march-out there were people from the community lining the streets and clapping for them – it was incredible to have such an impact on that community.
WGCDR Marshall is in no doubt that his successor will find the role just as rewarding.
“It’s not just about passing a course – we are turning lives around,” he says.
For further information please contact Geoff Davies, Defence Communications Group: 021-806-926