Growing connections between students and the outdoors with Skills Active Aotearoa apprentice Dave Thomas

October 9, 2018

Dave Thomas loves being a teacher in the outdoors because he gets to play a part in his students’ growth and development over their time at college.

Dave is head of the Outdoor Education department at South Otago High School, and he’s one of three candidates for the Skills Active Aotearoa 2018 Apprentice of the Year.

Each year this award goes to a high-potential trainee with commitment, passion and diligence, who has the skills and qualifications to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders, through the medium of sport, recreation or the performing arts.

As an outdoor professional and a teacher, the safety of your students is in your hands, Dave says, and this is one of the reasons he pursued a Multi-Activity Instructor Apprenticeship with Skills Active – in order to refresh and validate his skills and knowledge.

“I am taking students rock climbing and kayaking and tramping; I think I’m good and competent and do a great job teaching my students.

“But having a Skills Active assessor come and critique me has enabled me to update various aspects of my teaching and ensure my practice is current and of a high standard.”

Dave also liked the way his apprenticeship helped to further develop the relationship between himself and his students.

“As a teacher, the apprenticeship allowed me to share my qualification process with my students, as they worked towards their own qualifications.

“It gave them an opportunity to see a future pathway while also enabling me to support them in their learning. And my students really valued seeing that training process.”

The nature of on-job training meant Dave could complete the qualification while he worked, which was ideal for a very busy teacher with a packed schedule.

As well as teaching classes, keeping up with paperwork, and going on regular trips and excursions with his students, Dave is also a full-time student this year, learning te reo Māori.

He says that building a sense of whanaungatanga, or kinship, between himself, his students, his colleagues, and the Balclutha community, is a big part of what he loves about the job.

Helping young people to feel connected to their whenua, or local environment, is very rewarding, Dave says. And that’s whether they keep outdoor recreation as a hobby, or go on to make their living in the industry, as some of his students have done.

“It gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment when my graduating students use the skills and lessons from my teaching to shape their future, to develop careers and become responsible members of the wider outdoor community.”

Whatever his students end up doing, Dave adds, teaching provides a unique opportunity “to work with individuals over a number of years and support them in their aspirations” – and he hopes to be doing it for many years to come.

About the Apprentice of the Year competition

Dave is one of three candidates for the 2018 Skills Active Apprentice of the Year. The winner will be announced at the New Zealand Recreation Conference in October. Watch this space to find out more about the other candidates!


Media contact for Skills Active

Esther McLaren

021 195 5127

About Skills Active

Skills Active Aotearoa is the industry training organisation for sport, recreation, aquatics, exercise, snowsport and performing arts. We are a non-profit organisation, funded by government to promote careers and workforce development in our industries, work with them to create world-class qualifications, and support workplaces to train staff.