Educating Our Future Managers: Preparing Well with Pressure Building from Both Government and Business, a New Broom of Learning Is Starting Its Sweep through New Zealand's Schools, and It Will Have Profound Implications for Management in This Country

By Watkin, Tim | New Zealand Management, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Educating Our Future Managers: Preparing Well with Pressure Building from Both Government and Business, a New Broom of Learning Is Starting Its Sweep through New Zealand's Schools, and It Will Have Profound Implications for Management in This Country


Watkin, Tim, New Zealand Management


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The two Grey High School accounting students were expecting a straightforward stock take. After arriving at the base hospital in Greymouth, Sam McDonald and Sarah van-Looy (both 16) dressed in gowns and masks and were led by a nurse to an operating theatre. They started counting sutures and swabs, even the replacement knees and hips, as a way of learning how to predict inventory levels.

The school and hospital had teamed up to give students some practical experience beyond the textbooks, but the pair were about to get more than they had anticipated. An emergency ... and the pair were kicked out of the room in a rush. Cut off from the stock they were supposed to be counting, hospital staff told them to sing out if they needed any help and left them to find a solution.

"They were thrown a real life situation and just told, 'you figure it out'," says Nicky Cooper, education project manager for Development West Coast. Using what they'd already counted as a percentage of the total inventory and a little guidance from staff, they did just that.

"We were able to apply the methods we were learning in school and it really made them stick," says McDonald.

"They were professional, they weren't crushed under the pressure," says Cooper. "When I went in to see them they were problem solving, managing themselves. They were there with their spreadsheets out. It was amazing."

The hospital was able to use the work in its budgets, while the students got a hands-on idea of what management is all about.

For most of us schooled in the 20th century, the opportunity to apply in a real business place what we were taught in class would have been rare indeed. But as New Zealand struggles to improve the quality of its managers, more attention is turning to the country's secondary schools and how they can help students get a head start in business. Hard questions are being asked of schools and the curriculum; essentially, are schools doing enough to prepare the next generation of business leaders?

"The answer has to be that the jury's still out," says New Zealand Institute of Management chief executive David Chapman, which is why this month sees the return of the Management Focus (www.managementfocus.org.nz) initiative launched in 2007. Management Focus was established by a group of leading New Zealand private and public sector organisations to encourage managers and business owners to work together to develop their management capability. The idea, promoted initially by NZIM, involves major sector groups such as Business New Zealand, the Employers and Manufacturers Association, economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, educators such as institutes of technology and universities, and government departments such as NZ Trade & Enterprise and the Department of Labour.

The cross-sectoral promotion of management excellence will create an "enduring brand" under which a range of activities will be developed and promoted to create a weeklong Management Focus programme every year. This year's event launches on 3 June.

The education/business debate will receive even more prominence next month when Secondary Futures--a project set up by Cabinet in 2004 to canvass voices not often heard in the education debate--releases a paper on how and why business could be more involved in education.

The consensus amongst those interviewed for this article was that things were "improving", "on the cusp", or "moving in the right direction", but far from complete. The main complaint was that for every improving school there were several others showing few signs of change.

Still, with pressure coming on from Government and business alike, a new broom of learning is starting its sweep through New Zealand's schools, and it will have profound implications for management in this country.

It wasn't long ago that New Zealand high schools did a fair amount of prescreening for employers, deciding whether a teenager was going to follow a professional or technical path in life. …

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