Waimakariri swim educator named 2021 Skills Active Aotearoa Apprentice of the Year

December 15, 2021

No matter how experienced or how good you are, you can always keep learning and progressing. After teaching swimming for more than a decade, Ali Gills still gets inspired by seeing learners of all ages progress in the water.

Now she is being recognised for her own progression, having been named the Skills Active Aotearoa Apprentice of the Year.

Every year this title goes to an exceptional apprenticeship graduate who has demonstrated talent, hard work and a commitment to increasing the health and wellbeing of New Zealand communities, through sport, recreation or performing arts.

Ali says that what makes swim education rewarding for her is making a difference in the lives of others.

“I find inspiration from my swimmers from all aquatics levels, especially the adult swimmers who overcome their fears and strive to be better swimmers by regularly attending lessons.”

Ali notes that many people have had a bad experience in the water at some stage, and that fear can stay with them. She says she is interested in the psychology of getting past the trauma, and turning the negative into a positive by learning to swim.

“It might be that someone has retired, and now they’ve got the time to tackle it. Or they have set themselves a goal to go on holiday and go snorkelling.

“I’ve got one lady who just rocks it – she has been coming for adult swimming lessons for seven years; she is in her late eighties, and she is still learning.”

Ali started helping out as a volunteer with the aquatics programme at her children’s school. When her eldest son began swimming competitively, her interest grew and she eventually applied for a role as a swim teacher with the Waimakariri District Council 10 years ago. She completed every teacher extension course she could find, which wasn’t easy as the courses sometimes weren’t available in her part of the motu.

When the Skills Active Apprenticeship in Specialised Swim and Water Safety Teacher became available, it was the perfect opportunity for Ali to get recognised for the courses she had completed, as well as adding on some new learning as well.

“The apprenticeship provided a future learning pathway to become qualified in an area that I’m passionate about. It has given me advanced industry knowledge and expert skills and it’s been a great confidence booster.”

There were certainly challenges to completing the qualification, Ali said, including having an older computer, and fitting everything in with her family commitments, her swim teaching work, and the other half of her role as a customer service rep for the aquatic centres.

However, she really enjoyed being able to ask her now adult son, who was part of the original inspiration for her swim teaching career, to proofread her assignments.

“Back then he was training eight or ten times a week, and helping out with his competitions was what sparked my passion and enthusiasm. It’s beautiful to watch a really good swimmer going up and down the pool - it’s an art form for sure.”

Ali has already moved onto the next step in her career progression, by becoming a registered Skills Active assessor. In this role, she will support other trainee swim teachers to expand their knowledge through formal qualifications.

“Being named the Apprentice of the Year makes me so proud. My goal is to continue to grow as an instructor and an assessor. What drives me is that I think we can always keep doing better.”

Ali will be presented with her Apprentice of the Year award at the Recreation Aotearoa national conference in Nelson in February.

“We are thrilled to be able to celebrate Ali’s considerable achievements in her field, and the example she sets for others in her profession,” says Skills Active chief operating officer Maren Frerichs.

“This award comes with our heartfelt congratulations, and huge appreciation for the work that Ali, and all great swim teachers, are doing in Kiwi communities.”


Media contact for Skills Active: Esther McLaren | esther@skillsactive.org.nz | 021 195 5127

Skills Active Aotearoa is the transitional industry training organisation for recreation, exercise, sport and performing arts. We are a non-profit organisation, 50% owned by Māori shareholders, and funded by government to support Aotearoa businesses, organisations, iwi and community enterprises to get their staff and volunteers trained and qualified.