Mary Jensen: SD4, SDG Quality Education, SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, SG10 Reduced Inequalities 

Employment is strongly linked with wellbeing, says Smart Waikato chief executive, Mary Jensen. 
“It is proven that employment is a major determinant of wellbeing.”

“It generates income and it provides a sense of purpose and belonging.“

Her organisation connects secondary school students, educators and employers ,helping facilitate career pathways.  “We tackle both ends of the employment equation in terms of young people and employers. Everything we do is about seeing the mana of a young person enhanced.”

Smart Waikato runs a range of programmes including the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) and Secondary School Employer Partnerships (SSEP), which they have won a national award for.  “Our biggest strength at Smart Waikato is working with all the region’s secondary schools.  We have been working over many years to develop solid relationships and trust, and to introduce employers into the mix.”

Mary Jensen is a Manu Taki aligned with SDG 4: Quality Education (Youth Focus). 

“For this Manu Taki role, I am most interested in disrupting perpetual disadvantage for people who can’t get ahead because they are trapped in a cycle of disadvantage.” 

“I am always asking myself,  how can we fix things systemically? What needs to change?”

Smart Waikato works with more than 40 secondary schools across the region and connects school students with 200 employers.  “From that comes opportunities for employment and we help those transitions take place.”

Young people getting experience, she says is key, even with entry level jobs.  “They have so much to offer the workplace – energy, technical skills, creativity- to name just a few things.  But getting a foot in the door can be challenging”.

“So, what we say is just start anywhere, and we encourage employers to keep on training them as we don’t encourage young people to go into dead end jobs. We want to see decent work and training pathways for them so that they can progress in their careers.” 

She says some young people need a lot of intense work, some require just a little bit of a hand, and some don’t require help at all.   “It is a two-way street.   Young people who are not work ready, can be hard work for employers to take on. Therefore enhancing the employability of young people needs to be a key focus so that both young people and employers achieve success.”

Jensen believes improving wellbeing is about “action not words.” 

“We need to be working with people who are actually doing stuff that works, and we need to scale that mahi up, if possible.”