It is a tough task for teenagers to make sound decisions about their career path. At the age of just 15 or 16, they come under pressure to consider the job they want to pursue or the study they plan to undertake. It is not straightforward or easy, as an international survey by McKinsey and Company illustrates.
From a global sample of over 7000, they found just 45 per cent of young people felt they had made the right decisions about their tertiary study and only 42 per cent of employers felt new workers were adequately prepared. In other words, in a connected global economy, many young people discover they lack employable skills in a world that has too few skilled workers.
So any initiative which helps young New Zealanders make good choices about their future in the workforce, and which convinces firms they are recruiting bright, motivated staff, is to be welcomed.
Labour has made a pitch in this market with a $30 million initiative that would give every student from Year 9 onwards a personalised career plan. The cost is significant because the policy proposes to train specialist career advisers who would work in every school. Moreover, the scale of the proposal is considerable. Some 280,000 pupils are at New Zealand schools from Year 9 and beyond. Drawing up individual career programmes for all those pupils is a challenging task.
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The evidence suggests there is merit in the policy, and it has been welcomed by principals and at least one industry group.
Career advice is currently in transition. Last May, the Government announced it was scrapping Careers New Zealand, a standalone state agency, and transferring its tasks to the Tertiary Education Commission. However this shift requires legislative changes, which have yet to occur. Careers NZ still runs a website for career advice, as does the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which it proclaims is "a great place to look when thinking about your study and career options".
The Ministry of Education requires schools give career advice for students from Year 7 onwards. Secondary schools can get a Career Information Grant, based on the decile rating of the school and the number of its students in Years 9 to 13. But there is no obligation to spend the money on career education. Teachers who give students career advice get a $1500 annual allowance but there is no formal training scheme to underpin standards or audit the value of their advice.
According to MBIE, the proportion of young New Zealanders aged 15 to 24 not in employment, education or training (NEET) rose 1.4 percentage points over the March quarter this year to 12.4 per cent, the highest rate since March 2013. This means around 80,000 young New Zealanders are not currently studying, working or otherwise equipping themselves for the workforce.
It is not hard to imagine that had many of these young people been encouraged to think about their future beyond school, by sitting down with a careers advisor, talking about their prospects and making a plan, then they would find themselves in a much better place.