Small business: Taking on a student

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Amanda Wheeler, chief executive of Workchoice Trust. Photo / supplied
Amanda Wheeler, chief executive of Workchoice Trust. Photo / supplied

Amanda Wheeler, CEO, Workchoice Trust

Workchoice Trust's vision is to provide a proactive, innovative service that ensures students have the employment advantage. The work we do focuses on helping young people have career exposure and knowledge in order to transition with ease from education to being successful employees.

Workchoice is a crucial link between education and employment, and our success relies on partnering with businesses who can deliver an eye-opening, motivating experience for the students and teachers to ensure the learning is taken back into the classroom.

What has the Trust achieved so far?

Workchoice Day has to-date been run effectively with 145,000 students since 1995. The registration process is open to all secondary schools nationwide, and is provided free to the schools and participating students.

In addition to the annual event, we publish a student guidebook called 'Life After School' which helps students identify their strengths, define goals, write a CV, prepare for job interviews and more; and we offer on-going employment support through social media.

What sectors and what kinds of companies are you looking for?
Workchoice Day is supported by a range of industries with engineering, trades, business and administration and science being among the most requested and most visited.

Industries that we need more support from include communications (advertising, PR, media), law, hospitality and healthcare, where we simply cannot fill the student demand.

We have a diverse range of organisations who participate, from international companies such as Microsoft, to large organisations such as the Auckland Council, to small privately- owned business such as Frog Recruitment. Every type of workplace has something to offer a student seeking career information.

How does Workchoice help small businesses in what they're trying to achieve?

Workchoice helps businesses to gain visibility to hundreds of career advisors, thousands of school students and their parents, as well as offering the chance to more deeply profile their innovations and successes.

It's great motivation for staff as they present about an organisation they are passionate about and it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their own career paths and goals.

It's more than good corporate citizenship; it's asking: "How do we want to make a tangible investment in the future of our youth, and our business?"

What are the skills shortages in NZ?

Addressing future skills shortages is important to many companies who host students on Workchoice Day, as well as being proactive in planning to diversify their workforce by attracting the interest of high school students.

The Department of Labour estimates that 'retirement demand' is likely to be about 52,000 jobs per year over the next five years, and factors such as the Canterbury rebuild are forecast to drive construction-related employment.

These industries and others were named in the July 2012 report: Medium-Long Term Employment Outlook: Looking ahead to 2020, by the Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment release their which identified key areas for growth.

It states that there will be expected employment growth in primary processing and manufacturing, education, business and computing, and health and social sciences. In addition, food processing, retailing, accommodation and construction - which are of particular importance for younger workers - continue to be strong in demand.

What role do schools play, what kind of schools are involved?

Our programme is run at no cost to participating schools and students, and registration is 100 per cent voluntary. Careers advisors participate as they see the value the programme offers. We open registration to every secondary school in New Zealand, and have approximately 5,000 students from 120 schools signing on each year.

The major cities are our primary centres for activity due to the amount of companies who participate, but school demand is strong throughout the country - schools sign up in Waihi, Invercargill and Maungaturoto but sometimes do not have nearby companies to send their students to. 30 per cent of our participating students come from Decile 1-5 schools.

Workchoice Day, May 2013: Tuesday 21st May - Auckland; Tuesday 28th May - Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson; Tuesday 11th June - Christchurch

WORKCHOICE Case Study - Boffa Miskell; Sam Bourne, Senior Landscape Architect

What did you get out of Workchoice Day?

Workchoice Day is a great way for our company to share what we do with the next generation of urban designers, landscape architects, planners, ecologists and digital environment specialists.

What did you do with the kids?

A selection of professionals from all our disciplines presented their experience of how they came to be urban designers, landscape architects, planners, ecologists and digital environment specialists. They talked about what they studied at school and university and how they got to where they are today in this job.

The class was divided into small groups and presented with an actual site and a set of environmental, social, cultural and economic constraints.

Groups assumed the profile of a design professional to answer a brief for an eco-resort. This interactive design session linked the earlier presentations with an analysis of the environment and its carrying capacity for development.

The students coped well with this type of analysis and decision making on how to create a sustainable community. They presented their concepts with some fantastic results and creative solutions.

How much preparation did it take?

It takes a couple of hour's preparation from each contributor from Boffa Miskell. We tweak the format each year both for the benefit of the students as well as ourselves. We have found all the classes to be engaging, and once they get into the design exercise, the ideas always start to flow.

A key rule that we have for these sessions is giving everyone a turn with the pen. The final result is a shared drawing from each particular group of students.

Did it make you reflect on your business?

We are constantly looking for ways to grow awareness about the environment and the multi-disciplinary approach we take to projects. It is always great to present what you do to a new audience; the students surprise us in the fresh perspective they bring to the session.

What is your attitude towards internships? Is your business open to it?

Yes. Boffa Miskell's Auckland office has in the past offered internships for landscape architecture students, particularly over the summer break.

Case Study 2 Spark phd; Amanda Cater, Media Director

What you get out of Workchoice Day?

Our company found Workchoice Day really rewarding - it was an opportunity to share the passion we have for our jobs with some kids who may not have even known that our industry exists. The fact that most of the kids really got involved and had some great ideas was really exciting. We hope they left us feeling inspired.

What did you do with the kids?

We gave them an overview of what each part of the business does, with some examples of our work, then we gave them an actual client brief to work with. We asked them to come up with ideas for campaigns that had recently been planned. It was great to see how strong some of their ideas were.

How much preparation did it take?

It took a few hours of preparation to put together a presentation on what we do and how we work. We needed to really simplify what it is we do - not easy when there is so much jargon and marketing speak in our industry.

Our presentation covered off the main points of each role, then we asked some of the younger members of our team to come in and speak with the kids about how they got into the industry, what skills and traits they needed to have and what subjects they studied, which they now find useful.

We then pulled together some information on the selected client brief - the product we were launching, who the target audience were, some of the creative work that we had access to. We then put them into groups and coached them through the ideas process. To conclude, we asked each team to share the ideas they had come up, and then we showed them the campaign that had actually run.


Did it make you reflect on your business?

It highlighted that we can sometimes over-complicate things but keeping it simple can produce some really good ideas and results.

What is your attitude towards internships? Is your business open to it?

We are very supportive of encouraging young people into the media industry. We run a graduate programme that recruits young grads and provides a 12-month training programme. We currently have three grads who have recently been appointed and are already making a great contribution.

Next week: How can you tell when your business is really in trouble? When do you put your hand up for help? Send your stories of survival or closing down and moving on to me, Gill South at the email link below:

- NZ Herald

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