Talk-ED: The Great Big Smouldering Issue!

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
22  August 2012

It’s funny how you can be busily engaged in something at home and yet you can smell the pot starting to burn on the stove. You only hope that it is not too late and that neither the veges or the pot are beyond retrieval.

I instinctively feel that I can smell an educational pot starting to burn – the issue of youth unemployment, youth disengagement from school and teenage parents.

Increasingly you read reports and studies that have titles such as The Silent Epidemic and The Forgotten Half. Such titles capture pretty well the nature of this building crisis. It is reaching proportions where half of youth between 15 and 24 years are caught up in youth unemployment and/ or disengagement and it has crept up on us. This is at least worrying and at worst disastrous.

In twenty or so years time this considerable part of a generation will be aged between 35 and 44 years old, be parents, and be a critical segment of a New Zealand economy. Can we maintain our standard of living if this group has little potential to create wealth? Can we expect their children to succeed where they have failed? Can we expect this large group not to be a charge against the state?

I have written plenty about disengagement and policies such as the current Youth Guarantee set of initiatives that will help. But more fundamental changes are required in our schools. Multiple pathways through which young people have a range of options that lead them through to university and polytechnics, through to real qualifications that will ease their entry into the workforce, bring incomes (both to them through wages and to us through the tax they pay) and provide them with the wherewithal to support their families well through education.

So we need to keep on working on those areas but with greater urgency, wider reach and more marked impact.

I read in the newspapers that the Irish are to supply some of the labour required for the reconstruction of Christchurch. I can accept that we could be short on middle level experience – just as a basketball coach cannot teach height, an education provider cannot teach experience. But when it comes to raw grunt that is qualified to entry level, those jobs should go to New Zealanders and young New Zealanders at that.

This might require the Government to create jobs. But we are dealing with crisis here, both in post-quake Christchurch and in the slowly awakening education community. It would be my guess that we could easily train 5,000 young people to enter the workforce in Christchurch to work under supervision within 6 months and to maintain a supply after that. We did it after World War II, why not again now? Polytechnics could be challenged to meet these deadlines and to put into place an ongoing training capability in Christchurch. What about reinventing the “night school”? Drawing a workforce for Christchurch from across the youth of New Zealand has the advantage of returning qualified and experienced workers to many parts of New Zealand when the task is done.

What a golden opportunity we could make out of the unfortunate events. Construction, infrastructure, plumbing, painting, concrete workers, structural engineers and many more – we are here presented with real work to put alongside real training and real qualifications.

I can imagine that all this would not be greeted with joy by those managing the construction contracts but surely some additional support could be given to them to get this major training endeavour under way.

It is said that the needs of Christchurch in terms of rebuilding will take 10 or more years to complete so the timeframes here could change a whole generation and be the step change required if we are to return to an education system that will set most young people off on the pathways to prosperity. An approach like this could take the shape of a NZ Trades Corp.

Teen parents also require a special effort. There are it seems 28,000 young parents who were they not young parents, would be included in the statistics for NEETS (those not in employment, education or training). It seems crazy to simply accept that this group should be inactive (granted there is the not underestimated activity of parenthood) and special programs could easily be put into place for them surely. The great success over many years of units for teen mums would encourage us to set our sights high for the larger group.

There is an urgency about our seeking responses to the unsustainable size of the half of our young people who are dropping out of education and training and possibly out of sight. Bill Gates used to say that we should do something about all this because it is hurting them. He now says we should do something because it is hurting us!

Do I smell a pot burning or is it Rome?

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  1. Melanie Cooke M.Psych Dip Career Development, MIT Career Centre says:

    Hence the need for excellent pastoral support at high school and tertiary level – especially career development by career specialists from at least year 11, appropriately tailored for each age group.
    Too many schools don’t take career development seriously, sport has more money and time poured into it than career, yet youth unemployment and disengagement are huge problems. When people have something to work towards (ie a career path), they are far more motivated to learn and engage.
    You can’t just plonk 16 and 17 year olds into a tertiary setting and expect them to learn when they may have been having difficulty learning at school – they often don’t have a career path or know how to learn, they just needed something to do.
    Most of us over 40 chose our career path via help from our parents, or at least they were unwitting role models and gave us the idea of what was possible for ourselves – when parents aren’t around, don’t have jobs or don’t do this, our young people don’t see what is possible for themselves. Tertiary then needs to play a much bigger role in career path development for young people, picking up the slack from parents.

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