Education is far from just preparation for the labour market, it’s preparation for life. But that doesn’t mean schools and training institutions can be blind to the needs of business and employers. Through good education and training we can ensure our workforce is able to deal with all of the challenges the changing nature of work throws at them. By the time they leave school, every young person should be on a pathway to meaningful employment or further study or training.
The current focus on qualification attainment, particularly the Government’s target to have at least 85% of school leavers achieving NCEA Level 2, creates an incentive for schools to focus on credit accumulation, rather than developing meaningful learning pathways for their students that will lead to longer-term outcomes. Despite an increase in qualification attainment at the senior secondary school level in recent years, New Zealand still has high levels of NEETs (Not
in Education Employment or Training).3 We need to focus on the quality of that learning and whether it provides knowledge and skills, not just credits.
New Zealand is not alone. International researchers McKinsey and Company surveyed 8000 employers, providers, and young people and examined over 100 programs. Among their findings were:
• A minority of young people felt they were well-informed when making decisions about courses of study.
• Once in the job market, only 45% of young people said they had made the right choices about their education.
• Only 42% of employers surveyed felt the education system adequately prepared young people for the workforce, while 72% of education providers felt it did.
• Employers consistently rated young people lower than education providers on competencies such as teamwork, spoken communications, written communications and problem solving.
• About a quarter of young people were still looking for work six months after finishing their studies, while a further quarter were in ‘interim’ employment that had no relationship to their field of study.4
New Zealand can and should be at the forefront of addressing these issues. Our qualifications framework is one of the most progressive and flexible in the OECD, yet we aren’t yet making the most of it. While NCEA has opened up far greater scope for personalised learning, more work needs to be done to ensure the results of the education system are understandable to end-users (parents, employers), so that learners are able to transact better in the labour market and have their skills recognised and valued.
There are problems on both sides: employers say they want to engage,
but more often sit as ‘recipients’ of the education system, rather than necessary participants, actively involved in defining and delivering skills.
Employers also expect ‘work-ready’ employees, but the skills they refer to are often best developed through experiential opportunities, outside traditional classrooms. Genuinely blended learning has the
potential to better engage many of those who currently disengage from education, but it will require much greater partnering between the world of work and the education system.
There is a real question of whether school and university is the right place for all of our students. Some students will learn better in industry training or directly on the job. Getting businesses to sign up to this – particularly in emerging industries where there are skill shortages like ICT – is crucial to ensuring we have a workforce which meets New Zealand’s needs and ensures our young people do not end up unemployed.
For its part, the education system can be insular, and see its role as educating the public about the education profession.
E.g. “how do we make parents understand NCEA?” rather than “how to we make NCEA understandable to parents?”
At very least the results of the education system need to be digestible, and employers need to grapple with their responsibilities to help define and deliver employable skills.
In Vocational Education, we need more tertiary education programmes that “include the prize”. Rather than stick education on to people and hope for the best (push strategy), we need end-to-end programmes that bridge learners into jobs or better jobs (pull strategy). This requires deliberate, practical, local, community-led effort and requires employers and community interests to be involved at the front end. It also needs more joined up design between providers and the industry training and apprenticeships system.
The Maori and Pacific Trades Training concept (‘consortia approach’) is good and could be built on, though the practice has yet to match the theory. Fundamentally the effectiveness of VET systems is about the integration between the world of education and the world of work – the more integrated the better the VET system.
How can we improve the responsiveness of education and training so that it meets the needs of careers people will have in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time?
What can be done to boost businesses involvement with the training of their future workforce?
How do we better integrate our education and training system with our labour market?
How can the transition between schools and work or industry training be improved?
3 Stats NZ, Labour Market Statistics: June 2015 quarter, http://stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/ income-and-work/employment_and_unemployment/LabourMarketStatistics_HOTPJun15qtr.aspx