Byline: Reg Birchfield
New Zealand governments and educators have made a generally poor fist of preparing the nation's youth for the workforce. The errors are not unique to us. Even a cursory look at the United States, Britain and other European economies provides stark evidence of the growing disenfranchisement of school leavers.
Being young is difficult to avoid and besides, the problem rests less with our youth than with their parents, educators, careers advisors, some employers and politicians. This combination of influencers is frequently conflicted and confused about how to tackle the task of preparing future generations for life and work. The confusion is worsening in direct relation to the increasing complexity of work options and instability of world economies.
No government could, therefore, leave a more profoundly useful legacy than to create a learning environment with policy settings that prepare school leavers for a meaningful work life. For its part, NZIM is concerned that today's workforce entrants are tomorrow's managers and leaders. The Institute is mandated to raise the nation's management capability. It needs more than another crop of sow's ears from which to tailor its product.
Managers and leaders emerge from every corner of the learning and work experience world. Trades learning and workplaces are as fertile management spawning grounds as any ivy-encrusted academic campus. But, as NZIM's newly appointed National chief executive Kevin Gaunt points out, New Zealand suffers from a "serious lack of qualified trades people" -- a shortage that threatens to become even more acute.
The paucity of suitably educated and trained young people struggling to enter the workforce presents NZIM with a double whammy. The shortage limits the feedstock of suitably schooled young people that it needs to build management and organisational capability. Simultaneously, it starves employers of the skilled individuals needed to grow their businesses.
Business and economics writer Rod Oram criticised the Government's recently announced plans to spend more on youth unemployment while, at the same time, cutting $100 million from it industry training budget. There was, he wrote, a sense of back-to-the-future about the measures. They were, he added, based on previously failed policies and didn't seem well designed to get to grips with the real issues confronting industry training.
Southern Group Training Trust general manager Glenys McKenzie thinks some of the Government's thinking is rooted in a belief that paying a subsidy to employers to recruit unemployed young people will reduce youth unemployment. "The strategy fails to recognise that under-qualified students are leaving secondary school poorly equipped for the real world," she said. "Employers and other tertiary institutions shouldn't need to provide these skills -- that is a school function which is inadequately addressed."
Using the unemployment benefit as a subsidy to encourage employers to offer apprenticeship is not always practical. As McKenzie says, many students are already disadvantaged and will need "intensive pastoral care" to have any hope of success. "And schools need to promote and endorse tertiary trade training as much as they do tertiary university training," she adds.
NZIM Southern deputy chair Michael Weusten, who is also chair of the Engineering Trades Association Southland, shares McKenzie's views on apprenticeship training and employment. They do not believe the current $5000 subsidy for training should exclude apprentices. The Government will get the best return on its investment from just that group. …