A truly invested local is leading the organisation that can future proof employment for Whanganui businesses and industry.
The Whanganui District Employment Training Trust (WDETT) offers four services all designed to match the skills and training needs of employers with the potential of local people: Youth To Work for Jobseekers; 100%SWEET for school learners and school leavers; Port Employment Precinct for opportunities with Te Pūwaha; and Start It Up for aspiring business owners.
Recently appointed Chief Executive of WDETT, Sally Ross was born in Whanganui and educated at Kokohuia Primary School, Rutherford Intermediate School and Whanganui High School. She trained and qualified as a Dispensary Assistant at Hawkins Pharmacy in Castlecliff before moving into a 22-year career with Bank of New Zealand. Starting as a teller, she worked across retail banking, personal lending, records, international transactions, dishonours, investments and more. As a BNZ business manager, she was looking after a portfolio of small business clients when the global financial crisis hit, triggering redundancies: “That was really soul destroying, because I couldn’t get a job. Back then, it wasn’t a matter of matching the skills to the role. If you were a banker, employers assumed you didn’t really know much about administration, or operational management. Now, because the labour force is tight, we look to map skills across to roles, regardless of how a person develops them.”
Changing tack, she operated a mortgage broker franchise for a number of years, before accepting a role with a local private training establishment, AGC Training - initially as their Administration Manager, then Operations Manager, and finally General Manager: “Looking after a client portfolio (in banking) was basically people management. Ultimately this emerged again with the time I spent working with AGC Training. I really enjoyed this role - as well as managing finances, I also learned all about academia which was awesome.”
Over the last four or five years, Sally has been volunteering as the Chair for the WDETT Charitable Trust. When WDETT jumped from being one staff member with one contract to six staff members and three contracts inside 18 months, it became clear that the trust needed more support for its day to day operations. So in May of this year, Sally committed to WDETT full time, accepting the role as the organisation’s first Chief Executive. This role needed skills and continuity and Sally brings strengths in finance, operational and business management.
The first five months of her role have been focused on establishing processes and procedures and collectively as a team, designing the culture: “We’ve been working on establishing what kind of organisation we are - things like our whare kaupapa, which we are developing. It’s about our story, how we work here. We have all decided what we want for this space not only for our visitors, but for ourselves.”
“We’re just about to launch a new website which is gorgeous, and when I look at that, it shows just how far we’ve come. We are building the understanding - for the community - of how all of our services fit together.”
WDETT has been active in the youth employment space for over a decade, and is now making ground further into the community: “WDETT has evolved out of secondary schools, and the community and tertiary sector are now considering us as a go-to. Long term, the more of that the better. That’s where the juice is - when people are keen to take advantage of the skill set that we’ve got.”
A big goal on Sally’s list is for WDETT to become accepted and known as the career hub ‘go-to’ for anyone and everyone in Whanganui: “If people are looking to get into employment, or already in the workforce but needing to upskill, we want them to come and see us first - we want WDETT to be the top of mind.”
“Building a CV is a skill set. Preparing for an interview is a skill set. Understanding what employability skills are - that’s a skill set. We know that not everybody has the ability to know where their next step is. As a team, we help people with that step.”
Sally and her team are highly motivated: “I have a bit of vision and drive. I can be very single-minded about something once I’ve got an idea in my head about where it is going, and what it is doing. Every one of our team are passionate about what they are doing. They are very keen to make sure that everyone has access to every opportunity.”
“As well, it’s important to understand what other people’s goals are, and to help make connections.”
Sally says the potential for growth in Whanganui is a high priority for the organisation, and that includes supporting whānau and community to have the careers and opportunities they want, so they can achieve regardless of where they may have started from.
“We’re here and we’re keen to help. We are the career hub. We’re the bridge to employment - that’s what we do. If you need any help with anything, let us know, just get in touch either through our website or come and see us. And if you have any questions about any of the projects that we run, get a hold of us.”
Sally strives to be living and breathing her ideals for herself and for the community she is committed to. She is particularly passionate about breaking down preconceived perceptions: “Social stereotyping really winds me up. If my work is anything, it’s about making sure that it doesn’t happen to people - boxing them in. Our tag line is he waka eke noa which most people know as we are all in this together. But I think I like the deeper meaning of the phrase more; no one gets left behind.”