A Newshub investigation into a construction cadetship course targeting young, under-privileged teenagers has resulted in an inquiry by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
The company involved - Poutama Training Institute - offered training in basic construction with the promise cadets would get jobs.
But students say they were misled that the course was NZQA approved and that they were pressured to sign loan agreements they didn't understand.
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It was described as a "live-in" construction course - several weeks staying at a Waikato marae and doing hands-on training with talk of real jobs at the end. There was even a formal graduation ceremony.
But students and parents say the certificates dished out were meaningless.
"I just feel like I've wasted my time, when I could have been putting my effort into schooling and getting credits there," says former course cadet Harmony Rae.
Harmony Rae's mother, Kim Troughear, took her daughter out of Huntly College specifically to join the cadetship.
There were around 20 teenagers on the course. Booklets clearly state the cadetship was "NZQA Level 2". Other documentation lists dozens of NZQA units that would be covered.
But the company with the slogan "real people, training, and jobs" didn't actually have any real NZQA accreditation at all.
Ms Troughear calls it "definitely misleading".
"Harmony went on that on the basis that it was NZQA," she says.
Newshub sent course material to NZQA which then started investigating, saying it has a "responsibility to ensure qualifications are credible and robust. This includes investigating any misrepresentations from unregistered providers."
Under the Education Act, it's an offence to falsely claim a programme is approved.
"I knew at the end of the day everything was fake - I knew it was all kaka," former course cadet Teretere Taniwha says.
The students and their parents say they were under the impression the course was free.
But the students, most aged 16 or 17, say a few days into it they were asked to sign contracts from Poutama Training Institute for loans totalling more than $8000 plus interest.
"They just told us to sign it, and if we didn't sign it then we had to leave the course," Mr Taniwha says.
"I was devastated because she was 16 years of age - and for them to bully or coerce her to sign papers... she wasn't allowed to ring me," mother Reiha Kirkwood says.
The Commerce Commission told Newshub "in general 16 and 17-year-olds can't have loans enforced against them" and any loan contract must be "properly disclosed and explained".
"It was all about the money. I don't believe from day dot that it was ever about our kids," Ms Troughear says.
"Nobody said that it's going to cost fees, that she has to take out a loan," Ms Kirkwood says.
"If I had known that she would not have gone on it because I don't want that sort of debt on a 16-year-old's shoulders."
Then there're former course cadets Tautoko Turner and his brother Toara.
They also assumed their qualifications were valid and NZQA approved.
"They've conned us," Tautoko says. "I feel ripped off, disappointed in them too. I wouldn't want that to happen to anybody else."
"I thought that, you know, we were going to make money and that, go out and get a proper job - and that's what they were saying to us too," Toara Turner says.
The company was set up by brothers Kevin and Peter O'Connor.
They're the directors of National Personnel Limited (NPL), the same company being investigated by Immigration New Zealand over their treatment of Chinese carpenters who were evicted from their accommodation two weeks ago.
Dozens have complained NPL left them without work or pay, although the company claims the men have been paid all their wages.
Company director Kevin O'Connor confirmed Poutama Training Institute was never a registered private training establishment with NZQA and is no longer in business.
Asked whether students were pressured to sign loan documents, Mr O'Connor told Newshub the company's CEO, Lennie Johns, had passed away "and we cannot verify with him what he told parents or trainees"
Mr O'connor also says "some trainees" were provided with handbooks which outlined the agreements that would need to be signed before the course started.
All graduates of the programme were offered full time employment, Mr O'Connor said.
- If you have more information and wish to contact Michael Morrah confidentially, you can do so by emailing MichaelMorrah@mediaworks.co.nz