31 May 2012
I got my first job when I was about eight years old when my brother and I, during the school holidays, worked for our Uncle in his grocery shop. We got ten shillings a week, had our own aprons and generally did useful things such as sweep the floor, make up bags of flour, help get the orders together and subsequently take turns in going with Uncle Les in his quaint little van to do the deliveries.
I am pretty sure that this, being a family arrangement, did not involve the IRD.
But such an opportunity was important because later, aged about 12 or 13 years I continued with an after-school job – i.e. each day from about 3.30pm to 5.00pm and during the school holidays, I had a similar set of responsibilities working for Mr Frame in his hardware store.
None of this was remarkable in those days. Young people delivered the newspapers, worked in shops, mowed lawns and so on. I thought that somehow this had all gone by the wayside as adults, seeking work, had replaced young ones doing such activities.
My daily newspaper is delivered by an adult couple driving a car – she doing the driving and he putting the papers into the letter boxes. Franchises galore have captured the lawn market and you never see young people appearing in shops to do the after-school shift.
But apparently it is not quite so. The discussion of one of the tax changes in the recent budget, brought to light the fact that 68,000 “children” were working in paid employment. A recent report shows considerable employment among secondary school age people with some working considerable hours. I recall that the recent discussion of the “truancy” statistics for NZ schools mentioned that part-time employment was a factor.
It therefore continues to puzzle me that the default position for so many young people is to head towards degree study and a place in occupational classes that are seen to be prestigious often in defiances of the evidence of progress being made as a student. One might have thought that all this “employment experience” might have encouraged more to head towards the skill areas in which there are continuing shortages.
Yesterday’s Dominion Post newspaper reported a survey that showed that nearly half of Kiwi employers are struggling to find staff with the right skills. Apparently the global average for this is 34% and for the the Asia-Pacific region, 45%. So we are a bit on the high side.
The skill areas that were listed in the top 10 for NZ were: engineers, sales reps, trades-people, IT staff, technicians, accounting, management, food and beverage, marketing / PR / comms and drivers. Some of these categories require degrees but not exclusively. The IPENZ President, Graham Darlow, is quoted as saying that “the biggest shortage is in technicians and not professional engineers.”
Time and time again the message is the same – New Zealand needs young people coming into the workforce with middle level skills in areas such as those listed above but also with the skills of employment.
Central to this is the accruing of experience in real employment on the way through – informal experience as a young person, more formal as the point of full-time employment approaches. Getting ready to work is a gradual process that requires growth – qualified on Friday and into the workforce on Monday with no previous experience is not palatable to many employers.
I am told time and time again by employers that they respect the qualifications young people have but, and it usually runs along these lines – “they aren’t ready to work”.
I reflect on my own experience as a worker – a little grocer’s lad, a hardware store assistant, a drain-layer, an assistant sexton in a cemetery and a musician – all woven around the journey towards a qualification and a subsequent job which in my case would be to teach. I am sure that the wages I got as a little worker were not an excessive drain on the businesses I worked for. I also guess that later when in university my holidays spent as a drain-layer were more productive.
But I do know that I learnt a lot from those experiences which these days would be called the skills of employment – working hard, following instructions, being able to work in a self-directed manner, getting there every day on time regardless of weather, saving money and learning to mix with a very wide range of people.
Looking back the experiences were invaluable. Perhaps the time is right for a national campaign to offer young people such informal and formal opportunities in the interests of getting the nation cracking – getting people into work that is there by having young people growing up with an expectation that working is what you do. But it is going to take an effort from everyone.