Rotorua non-profit Digital Natives Academy (DNA) launched their newest programme in a brand new 1100 sqm space last week on 2 March. Over 100 attended including elders from the community, Ministers of Parliament, Rotorua Lakes Councilors, community leaders and young people. DNA’s newest programme takes an innovative approach to helping young people find their purpose and their path.

“We are so excited about our new programme, our amazing team and our new space. The skills we teach focus on digital and creative tech. We use project based activities to help reignite young people’s love of learning and our programme is hands-on and provides the key skills needed to effectively navigate digital and creative tech pathways” says Co-Founder and Director, Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule. “Importantly we take a holistic approach and our delivery is based on Te Ao Māori worldviews and uses a Mātauranga Māori approach”, explained Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule, cofounder and Director of Native Tech, after welcoming visitors to the new space which was blessed by Tōhunga (spiritual leader), Kemara Kennedy who shared karakia (traditional Māori incantations and prayers) to invoke spiritual guidance and protection over the space and all who enter it.

The Bay of Plenty was once considered the mecca of North Island inbound tourism, forestry, agriculture and primary industry opportunities and while those industries continue to play an important role, Covid made us understand the power of digital and DNA’s goal is to help harness that potential and help pathway young people into the future of work.

“Our region is in the process of reimagining and redefining itself, in terms of what we offer locally, regionally, nationally and globally. The Bay is fast becoming an epicentre for film, TV, music, animation and digital content creation as well as livestream production and esports,” says Marcus Powell, Programme & General Manager.

“These productions need techs, animators, web developers, editors, audio engineers, camera operators, content creators and managers, storytellers, photographers, graphic designers, software developers/coders, game devs, livestreamers, social media admins, comms managers as well as interns who have experience in these spaces,” he adds.

Digital Native Academy’s newest programme, which is free to students, called Native Tech, emerged from the gap DNA experienced while delivering programmes to young people over the last 9 years, in particular those students most at risk of disengaging from formal education, or those who have already disengaged.

“Native Tech is that programme. Native Tech takes a holistic approach to our learners, is collaborative and project based. We have an amazing Registered Teacher, Digital Tech Expert and Junior Tech Assistant who work alongside two professional and experienced Youth Navigators. Together our team will help students co-construct not only their learning journey but their life’s journey”.

Ms Biasiny-Tule

The stats are sobering, Māori represent only 4% of the tech sector and demographics show that by 2030, 30% of the workforce will be Māori and Pacific Islander. With the lack of local digital and creative tech pathways, the training and education opportunities in Rotorua are even more dire.

“Unless we prepare this generation for the future of work, which no doubt will have a digital element, employment opportunities for Māori will continue to lag behind”, says Potaua Biasiny-Tule, DNA Co-Founder, InternetNZ executive board member and Te Komiti Whakauru Māori Chair.

Native Tech is an iteration of an incredibly successful programme developed in partnership with Morehu Ransfield, a Taranaki-based educator and Head of Department Māori and Esports, who piloted Oranga Matihiko at Spotswood College in New Plymouth over the last several years alongside DNA partner organisation, Te Papatipu Matihiko Charitable Trust, a collective of Māori orgs (Victory Up, Ngāti Gaming and Digital Natives Academy).

“Native Tech not only helps teach tech skills, we help our students prepare for their futures. Our team helps them gather their essential documents, study for their driver’s license, get work ready, focus on their fitness, health and wellbeing, learn how to manage their emotions, and importantly enhance their sense of identity and belonging by supporting them to learn about their whakapapa and whenua, their Tupuna and Atua by exploring Te Ao Māori through a digital lens”, says Mr Biasiny-Tule.

The ultimate goal for Native Tech is to help young people navigate life and grow into happy, healthy humans who are ready to take on further training, education and work opportunities.

“In 2022 we partnered with Media Design School and supported the delivery of their level 4 Digital Creativity Foundation programme, a 40 week, 120 credit programme that leads on to higher tertiary degrees. It was a small pilot which saw 80% of students successfully complete, two of whom were offered employment at DNA in 2023.”

Providing meaningful work experience is a key feature of the programme and in order to meet that growing need, Native Industries was setup as a local Digital Media Studio offering the highest quality digital design services.

“Because DNA works across so many regions with our partners, we are able to provide students access to meaningful work experience, helping with esports events, livestream production, and different types of content creation, including graphic design, animation and website development”, explains Mr Powell.

Key to this journey is illuminating opportunities both within Rotorua and outside our region, with those students ready to work, joining Native Industries, a digital media studio onsite which can provide professional services including graphic design, animation, illustration, branding, web development, esports event management and video editing to local, national and international businesses and organisations.

“It’s not enough to just provide training for our students, we want those who are ready to take the lead and have skills and capacity to begin working if they choose. We have to create opportunities in the industry to ensure they are given time to work alongside the pros while they build their portfolios and confidence. Key to this will be that our work is of the highest standard”, explains Ms Biasiny-Tule.

“Our goal is to help rangatahi dream, what do they want to be when they “grow up”? Where do they see themselves in 2 years, in 5? To help illuminate these pathways we introduce them to the larger digital, and creative tech ecosystem, work opportunities and day trips include visiting NZ’s top digital dev and esports studios, Telcos and a number of educational and tertiary institutes”, says Mr Biasiny-Tule.

“Most of our kids haven’t seen these spaces. So they don’t know what is possible and the reality is, they can be anything they can dream of, our role is to help showcase those opportunities so they can go on to create and build towards that destiny, while we give them the skills they will need to make that possible and the wings they need to fly”, he adds.

More Information

DNA’s new site at 1251 Fenton Street (the old ANZ building on the corner of Fenton St and Hinemoa St) will be officially opened 2 March 2023.
Native Tech programme is for rangatahi ages 16-24 – spaces limited, a waitlist will be available for July intake.