‘All the experiences I’ve had’ lead to dream job

Every job Jo Taylor has had, she has always found herself helping people — it is what she does best. She talks to Riley Kennedy about her career and her
new role supporting Dunedin’s rangatahi into the working environment.

Jo Taylor is a natural helper.

She even wanted to be Mother Teresa as a child — "then I realised you had to be Catholic".

After working in several jobs, mostly in education and social work, in New Zealand and Australia, Ms Taylor has landed her dream job working alongside her life-long friend Heidi Renata as the head of community projects and lead facilitator for the Mana Rangatahi programme — a 12-week course preparing youth aged 18 to 24 years old for the modern work environment using mātauranga Māori principles — at Innov8HQ.

"I feel like everything I’ve done, all the experiences I’ve had, have combined into one for this and I couldn’t be more excited about it ," Ms Taylor said.

Born in Waihola, south of Dunedin, Ms Taylor attended Tokomairiro High School in Milton. She left school at 15 to enter the workforce.

She initially went to work at Wallis’s Nurseries in Mosgiel before moving to the woollen mill in Milton. After that, she then spent a couple of years at the Finegand freezing works as an occupational health nurse aid.

As a single mother at the age of 26, Ms Taylor went to the University of Otago to study a bachelor of arts.

She knew she wanted to be a teacher, but she did not know what she wanted to teach. After taking several papers, she realised her passion was in Māori.

She left Otago University two years into her degree and switched to the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill to study education and a bilingual course.

"It took me to that age to work out where my passion was and believe in myself I could go and do it," she said.

After she graduated, she moved to her first teaching job in Te Hāpua, near Cape Reinga in Northland.

After a few years in the Far North, she moved back to Dunedin to work on an alternative education programme designed for Māori and Pasifika children who had been "alienated" from the mainstream schooling system.

After that, she moved to Te Kura Kaupapa Māori Ō Ōtepoti for a year.

In 2009, she ended up at her old secondary school as its head of Māori, guidance counsellor and a dean for three years.

She was also the project manager helping set up the Māori health service Tokomairiro Waiora in Milton at the time.

In 2012, Ms Taylor decided she wanted to be closer to her daughter, Brydie , who had recently moved to Australia so she packed up and followed her across the ditch.

Initially in Perth, she worked in a job seeker support role for two years helping people with disabilities secure employment.

She then moved to an indigenous community in the Northern Territory working on the Australian Government’s Work for the Dole programme.

Ms Taylor described that as an "amazing and interesting" experience. Her job was to set up projects and programmes to help upskill aboriginal communities.

The community where she lived, which was halfway between Darwin and Kununurra, was the country’s largest indigenous settlement made up of about 20 mobs. In the wet season, it was only accessible by plane.

The dynamic of the community was "really interesting" with some mobs not having anything to do with other mobs.

In late 2019, Ms Taylor returned home to New Zealand and worked for two years at Silver Fern Farms’ Finegand plant as a retention co-ordinator.

Then in March this year, she joined Innov8HQ and the Mana Rangatahi programme.

She had spoken with Ms Renata on several occasions over a few years about joining the programme and it was "so great" to finally make it happen.

With Ms Taylor’s experience working in education and not-for-profits, it felt like a "really good mix" to bring her knowledge alongside Ms Renata’s experience in the corporate and business sectors.

The pair’s families have been friends since they were both children growing up in Milton and Waihola.

When Ms Renata finished school, she became Ms Taylor’s babysitter. After that, they both went on to play rugby together.

"It’s always been a very close whānau relationship," she said.

In all of Ms Taylor’s roles throughout her career, she had always tried to help and better other people.

"I’ve always been a person that people naturally seek help and counsel from and I love it," she said.

Ms Taylor believed it was growing up in Waihola which made her a naturally helpful person. It was "small and tight" community — "everyone was there for each other".

"It was just a fantastic role model for being caring and nurturing," she said.

Ms Taylor said she would have loved the help that Mana Rangatahi offered now to help her figure out the pathway and passion she wanted to take.

Every young person who went on the course was bringing their own stories and energy — "that’s the thing I absolutely love."

Young people had an idea of what they wanted to do in their career and families often got in the way and stopped it from happening.

"When they come through the door to us, they are asked about their ideas and it’s our job to try and help them make it happen ... nothing is too stupid or out there," she said.

The community Mana Rangatahi had built was fantastic to be involved with, she said.

"Once you’re in the whānau, you’re in the whānau ... of course they go off and do other things, but they don’t quite leave us," she said.