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Initiative fuels new futures

Driving instructor Neil Hickmott with former student Zachary Koedijk. PHOTO/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI

Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

Offenders and ex-prisoners are getting on the road and into work, thanks to the success of a driving programme.

Driving instructor Neil Hickmott has been with the New Zealand Howard League driving programme for about a year. He taught those keen to get behind the wheel in Wairarapa and Palmerston North.

Hickmott was previously a driving licence tester at VTNZ but found his new role much more fulfilling.

“I love my mahi,” he said.

“I’m guessing about 50 or 60 people have got their licence in the last nine months or so.

“They’re a pleasure to deal with, they’re so grateful.

“They need a bit of encouragement. Some of them don’t comprehend some of the questions, so we can help with that too.”

Zachary Koedijk was one of the programme’s success stories.

“When I was 16, straight away I tried to get my learners, I failed four times,” he said.

“It didn’t hurt my pocket, but it did hurt my mum’s.”

Once he had passed his learners, Koedijk also sat the restricted test four times before passing.

“That time it hurt my pocket.”

He had lost his licence after a drink-driving incident about two years ago.

While talking to his probation officer at Masterton Community Corrections one day, licensing had come up.

“I was talking about my licence and how I couldn’t get very far without it,” Koedijk said.

His probation officer put him on to the Howard League driving programme.

One of the keys to his success was how comfortable Koedijk had felt learning from Hickmott.

“There’s a story about everything, checking your blindspot, checking your mirror – so after the stories, I’m checking my blindspots. It was a good way of teaching it,” Koedijk said.

“Now I can actually move forward with my career.

“It’s good to get a hand with that sort of stuff because the majority of people like me struggle.”

Corrections employment and training consultant Leanne Karaitiana said the programme was much needed in Wairarapa.

“I just want to tautoko what you do,” she said at a celebration of the programme last Friday.

“The lack of transport, of the inability to get to work, is the biggest problem I have with clients in Wairarapa.

“Over and above drugs, motivation, availability of work.

“It’s the opportunity for our clients to get there under their own steam. It builds their confidence.”

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty was also at the event.

“I think your story is inspirational,” he said, speaking to Koedijk directly.

“It’s about recognising that everyone has something to offer and that everyone makes mistakes.

“I’ve presented my drivers licence so many times but only once in the past year for the purpose of driving.

“We all know the opportunities provided by a drivers licence.”

NZ Howard League operations manager Jenny Michie said each driving programme cost about the same as keeping one person in prison for a year.

“There’s no downside to these programmes. We create safer, legal drivers, we help keep them out of prison and into work.

“Each participant has one-on-one time with the instructor and we stay with them until they’re able to pass, so there’s a lot of mentoring that goes on,” she said.

“So far, we’ve achieved over 8000 licences throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since the programme began as a small pilot in 2014.

“The average pass rate in most VTNZs is about 50 per cent. Our average pass rate is 80-90.”

According to the social research company Impact Lab, for every dollar spent on the driving programme, the Crown received $3.26 in social benefits.

According to a survey, 93 per cent of participants across the country agreed the programme had been worthwhile. Ninety-one per cent agreed getting a licence was easier than expected, with the same number agreeing they no longer worried about the police when driving.

“That’s life-changing,” Michie said, “It’s a weight lifted.”

Most participants [85 per cent] agreed a licence was important for identification, and 67 per cent agreed they needed a licence to be able to work.

She recalled one participant’s comments about how proud he felt after successfully completing the programme.

“The only thing he’d ever completed before in his life was a jail term.”

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