Help students choose the right pathway

Tertiary and vocational education reform is on the horizon.

The new system officially kicks in this April, though the transition period stretches to December 31, 2022.

We wrote this report for our Term 1 issue of School News! Click here to check out the full-length piece (and the rest of the mag).

When Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced the Vocational Education Reform Bill, he outlined key changes:

  1. The government establishes new advisory groups to shape reform, including Regional Skills Leadership Groups and Te Taumata Aronui.
  2. New Workforce Development Councils establish industry leadership.
  3. The newly created New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology merges all 16 polytechnics. Presently, it is developing things like an online delivery model, a learner journey map and an employer and community engagement model.
  4. Centres of Vocational Excellence encourage curriculum collaboration between industry experts, providers, council groups and other bodies.
  5. The reform unifies vocational funding across all industry, provider and work-integrated training (including certificate and diploma levels 3-7).
Photo credit: Ara Institute of Canterbury

What does vocational reform mean for schools?

When changes were originally proposed, the government said that current pathways and collaborations between schools and providers would continue. As the reform shift takes place over the next few years, schools may see more regional skills opportunities and apprenticeships to inform students about. Of course, only time will tell whether the reform can meet expectation. In October, Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also announced funding for 4000 additional trades training spots for high school students. So far, vocational reform means there is a lot more to talk about with students, which is terrific news but quite overwhelming for teachers.

Photo credit: Ara Institute of Canterbury

This issue, we spoke with three career advice specialists to find out how schools should best navigate these evolving tertiary and vocational pathways for students.

Industry expertise

EIT careers counsellor Eddie Carson took us through his key career guidance principles.

 The process should ideally start at intermediate level. It’s a good idea for parents and children to think about any areas of interest or particular strengths when they are in Year 8 as this may affect which school and which subject options they choose when they move on to Year 9. The earlier young people are exposed to ideas about possible career paths and valuable skills, the better.

I recommend encouraging school students to remain in education, develop a self-understanding of their skills, interests and abilities, work values and personality characteristics.

Photo credit: EIT careers

Eddie detailed some EIT opportunities for students and other career pathways.

EIT has one of the largest and most successful Trades Academies in New Zealand, and offers the Hawke’s Bay Schools Trades Academy programme. This year, we had 400 Year 11, 12 and 13 high school students from 21 Hawke’s Bay schools, plus 250 more students from twelve East Coast high schools graduating from EIT’s Tairāwhiti campus.  Students choose from 20 programmes, including building and construction, engineering, automotive, hair and beauty, hospitality (culinary, bakery, front of house) and information technology, business enterprise, horticulture and farming, and integrated primary industries and trades skills; the latter two are designed to provide students with rich and diverse experiences.

The recent government announcement of 2000 additional Trades Academy places for New Zealand recognises the value of students commencing tertiary vocational training while still at school. A good range of scholarships are available:

  1. The government has a range of fees-free initiatives, including MPTT (Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Scholarship) Youth Guarantee. In 2018, EIT had just over 500 students enrol who were eligible for the fees-free subsidy. In 2019, this has increased 40 percent.
  2. There are industry scholarships in fields like engineering, plumbing, electrical, construction, etc.
  3. EIT specific scholarships include scholarships offered by single EIT schools, e.g. nursing scholarships. The Year 13 Degree Scholarship covers one year of full-time study and is available to Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) and Taupō-based students who are beginning an undergraduate degree in 2020 (approximately 80 students will receive the scholarship in 2020).
Photo credit: Ara Institute of Canterbury

Mark Simons, youth and community development manager at Ara Institute of Canterbury emphasised exploring career options early.

 Providing opportunities for students to flexibly explore a range of career options from Year 9 onwards (and relating them back to work completed in the classroom) will help students start forming stronger ideas about their career aspirations. In Years 11-13 the focus is more on drilling down to specific career and employment opportunities, and how training providers (polytechnics, universities, industry training) can provide students with the skills to get them where they want to be.

Training providers are always keen to visit and speak with students to help them make choices about their tertiary study options. They will have a range of resources readily available for students. Some, like Ara, also offer professional development days for teachers, enabling them to learn more about the institution, the programmes on offer and the support services available to students.

Photo credit: Ara Institute of Canterbury

Mark warned schools not to assume career aspirations based on hobbies or stereotypes.

Just because a student is passionate about a hobby or interest doesn’t mean they want to do it for a job. For example, I see young men encouraged to attend an automotive training course because they told their teacher they ‘like cars’.  A lot of people like food but it doesn’t mean they all want to be chefs. It’s important for schools to encourage students to explore beyond their existing interests and broaden their horizons to discover a potential career they hadn’t considered before.

There is a lot of focus within career guidance circles on the importance of soft-skills and transferable skills. Students will likely have several different careers within their lifetime, and rapid advances in technology mean continual skills-based training is important for people at all stages of their careers. Students should be encouraged to give things a go and be reminded that they are never locked-in to a career just because that is what they studied at tertiary level.

The effects of vocational education reform will most likely be very positive for students. Bringing together all ITPs under one banner will mean a wider variety of programme options in more regions throughout the country. Proposed Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) will provide specific training in regions with skills shortages, meaning greater employment opportunities for graduates too.

Pip Mehrtens, general manager at Swivel Careers explained what vocational education reform means for students.

Pip Mehrtens, Photo credit: Swivel Careers

If it delivers on its promise, the vocational education reform changes should see more apprenticeship opportunities become available. Employers having input into standards and skills will help ensure training keeps up with the rate of change in industry, and having consistency in qualifications and skills means better long term job options and transferability of skills.

By the time students enter the workforce, much of what they have learned will be out-of-date. We must prepare them by creating life-long learners able to upskill. Many students do not know the reality of their considered career. Encourage them to get as much work experience as they can before choosing a study or career pathway. It may inspire them to commit or completely change their mind.

Schools must be consistently up-to-date on the evolving employment process, Pip stressed.

Students have an online brand and it can make or break their job applications. Their digital imprint never goes away and all too often it is detrimental to their employability. Employers tell me that many young people are not work-ready when they enter the work force. We need to set our students up for success by teaching them what employers expect and what constitutes acceptable workplace etiquette.

The employment process itself is constantly changing. Just like fashion, the look and style of CVs constantly evolves. Submitting an old-style CV could cost even the best candidate the job. Algorithms are increasingly popular as a CV screening tool. Using the wrong words in a CV and cover letter could prevent it from being read by a human. We need to make sure that students are not given out-dated advice or using old templates.

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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