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Talk-ED: It's not working!

Stuart Middleton
12 March 2012

I got into a discussion about youth unemployment recently with an interesting group of people. There was strong agreement that there was an issue, if not a crisis.

I suggested that we not only had the issue of youth unemployment but also an issue of unemployable youth. We are creating the confluence of two weather systems that will create a storm of Wahine proportions as the deep depression of youth unemployment meets the deep depression of unemployable youth to create dangerous waters and cyclonic winds that will in all probability rip the social fabric.

The issue of youth unemployment in New Zealand is exacerbated by a number of factors.

First, New Zealand has one of the highest proportions of youth workers aged 15-24 years in the labour force. Consequently when things turn tough we see a higher proportion of youth affected negatively. Nearly half of New Zealand’s unemployed is made up of this younger age group. Furthermore this youthful group splits into two clearly distinct groups – one is skilled and qualified while the other is disengaged from education and training and subsequently has little prospect of work.  No amount of improvement in the economy will address the issue of this latter group.

These two groups split along ethnic lines and hence the connection between this first exacerbating factor and the second. With the second group having such large representation of Maori and Pasifika youth the performance of these groups in the education system is critical.

NZQA has recently published the results of the 2008 Year 11 cohort in the NCEA as this group went through the senior school what was their level of achievement. This is a much more honest reporting than any that is based on the percentage of Year levels achieving since the cumulative percentages based on percentages inflates the result considerably. Now remember that this is the Year 11.

Remember too that this cohort is the group that actually made it to Year 11. So the cohort will be around 80% of the group that set out in education. And where numbers of Maori and Pacific students are higher the cohort will reflect an even smaller percentage of the actual cohort.

So with that in mind, this is the picture of real achievement:

In Year 11 students achieve in NCEA as follows:

NCEA L1 achieved…          … in Year 11          …In Year 12           ….in Year 13                         

NZ European                         72%                       81%                        81%                

Asian                                       70%                       80%                        81%                

Maori                                        44%                       57%                        59%                

Pacific                                      44%                       68%                        71%                

NCEA Level 2 has emerged as the level which all students should achieve prior to leaving school so as to have a good basis for further education and training. So what are the actual figures for the achievement of Level 2 by the end of Year 13?

NZ European                           68%                                                                                

Asian                                       74%               

Maori                                         43%

Pacific                                       58%

So even this basic measure of completing secondary school with the requisite achievement for further success is a cause for concern and those figures has in it a very clear message about youth unemployment.

Urgency must be brought to relating more closely the curriculum of the senior secondary school to the requirements of employment and to pathways that lead seamlessly from school into jobs and into further education and training. Each sector has a contribution to make to this. We will never solve all of the issues of youth unemployment if we cannot plug the flow of unemployable into the 15-24 year old group.

“Unemployment” should be a category for those who can work and want to work but who cannot get a job. Using it as a bucket category which in addition includes those who are unemployable and those who are in some form of social welfare trap, or both, leads to fuzzy responses that miss their mark.

What we do know is that the ethnicity of the demographics tells us that addressing this is urgent. A storm is brewing and like El Nino and La Nina they will not go away.


Published inEducation

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