Skills crisis: Students to start their trades in the classroom

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Using the NCEA framework, the employment-focused model will allow students to choose a career and work towards gaining the skills they need to succeed in that job.

Carpentry student Jay Leech is one of the 88 students enrolled at the Auckland West Vocational Academy, at Massey High School. Photo / Dean Purcell
Carpentry student Jay Leech is one of the 88 students enrolled at the Auckland West Vocational Academy, at Massey High School. Photo / Dean Purcell

A shift is happening in high schools around the country to help thousands of students who would normally leave with nothing gain not only a qualification but also a good job.

From next year, all New Zealand secondary schools will be offering credits towards Vocational Pathways.

The new Pathways system, officially launched this year, aims to cater to up to 70 per cent of school-leavers nationwide who do not go down what is deemed the "traditional pathway" to university.

Using the NCEA framework, the Pathways model will allow a student to choose a particular vocation - for example, construction - and study towards and gain credits in a way that is suited to that particular job.

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skill and Employment Steven Joyce said the model has not been finalised, but many schools had already started using the draft model to develop their programme offerings for next year.

Feedback from schools and employers had been overwhelmingly positive, Mr Joyce said.

"The involvement of firms and industry training organisations means that the Pathways have strong links to real-world employment skills.

"Both businesses and students have noted a greater level of confidence that young people will be coming out of school with the right mix of skills to take up a vocational career."

During consultation with schools, around 78 per cent said the Pathways model would be useful for students' decision-making.

Several secondary schools have already introduced similar programmes of trades academies.

One such initiative has been running at the Auckland West Vocational Academy (AWVA), based at Massey High School, for the past few months. In association with Unitec, the school offers carpentry, hospitality and electro-technology courses within the academy.

Other subjects to be offered from next year are business computing, automotive and retail.

Chris Skinner, who is the carpentry tutor at AWVA, has worked in the industry for many years and says such initiatives will lead to a better society and economy.

"These students are not only gaining their NCEA credits, they're learning exactly what an employer wants. They know that they have to turn up on time, to be confident in front of their employer, know their tools, to always note things down and to always keep busy - that's what an employer wants to see.

"As an employer, I know that these kids have that point of difference that will get them the job over other kids who may not have gone through something like this."

Around 2200 students around the country are enrolled in a trades academy this year - a jump from 900 last year. Up to 3300 places for students have been allocated for next year's intake and demand is high.

John Tinling, a deputy principal at Massey High, has played a key role in helping set up the academies at the school and said it was vital to know how the community was changing.

One example was the expansion of the nearby Westgate Shopping Centre where a $1 billion transformation is under way. A new town centre, including a town square and new library, a village centre and an employment park is set to bring about an estimated 10,000 jobs to the area.

"That's another reason why we've set up a retail academy," Mr Tinling said. "The kids will learn the basics of retail, like customer service, but also about stock control, management, sales techniques, ordering and legal aspects of sales."

To help students find out what vocational path they may like to take, the Youth Guarantee website launched a series of videos and a survey to guide students.

Mr Joyce said: "I think the Vocational Pathways provide an important new tool to support careers advice and tools to help students and careers advisers see how their achievement relates to the Pathways that are being developed."

Carpentry puts 'naughty kid' on top

Jay Leech admits school was a struggle - but the new courses offered there turned out to be a lifesaver.

"That's what this has been for me - a lifesaver. It's saved me. I've got something to go to school for now and I've got a plan after school now."

The 17-year-old is one of the 88 students enrolled at the Auckland West Vocational Academy, at Massey High School, an initiative that is closely related to the Government's new move to introduce vocational pathways in schools from next year.

Jay admits he was one of the "naughty kids" who had never thought about doing tertiary study and was on the verge of being kicked out of school - again.

"Every teacher knows me ... I was always in trouble."

Today he is the top student enrolled in the carpentry course at the academy and is on track to gain his NCEA qualification. For his efforts he has been awarded a $2500 scholarship to go to Unitec next year.

"I never thought about the future. I didn't even know what I was going to be doing straight after leaving school. Now I've got this and my family is really happy and I'm really happy."

Principal Bruce Ritchie said the academies had been part of a long-time plan to expand the school into a senior college.

The key focus was to help those students who were struggling in what was seen as the traditional pathway through school.

"The Government's Vocational Pathways [initiative] really fits in with this. My point of view is that there's bigger educational things happening here.

"New Zealand has a world-class education system ... but where we haven't been strong is catering to those students who aren't following that traditional pathway to university," Mr Ritchie said.

He said the Vocational Pathways initiative had been a long time coming. "I look at students like Jay and I'm really pleased for them. These are the types of things that students like Jay latch on to, because they're learning in context.

"Jay was a student who was very much struggling ... and now he is a leader."

Vocational Pathways

* Announced by then Education Minister Anne Tolley in 2010.

* Officially launched in June this year.

* To cater to the 70 per cent of New Zealand students who do not go to university.

* To help an estimated 85 per cent of students gain their NCEA level 2 or equivalent.

* To be offered in all high schools from 2013.

The series

Yesterday: Our mismatched skills
Today: Vocational Pathways
Tomorrow: Industry training
Thursday: Second-chance education
Friday: Tertiary education.

- NZ Herald

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