Talk-ED: Trade? Me? Really?

 

It’s time that the trades got a boost. It is an absurdity that New Zealand on the one hand requires substantial numbers of skilled people – 30,000 in Christchurch and 40,000 in Auckland and then some more – but on the other  hand there are struggles to get people into training for the trades.  And this is happening in a time when unemployment among young people is at worryingly high levels.

It surely can’t be the money – trades people quite quickly earn good money.  Have you had to pay a tradesperson lately?

It can only be a matter of perception that keeps young ones at arm’s length from training for the trades.  Of course it hasn’t helped that the secondary schools have so comprehensively removed trades options from the programme over the past thirty or so years and it will take time for the youth guarantee initiatives such as the vocational pathways and trades academies and the like to start to have an impact.

The perception that success can only be found in being a lawyer or a doctor or some other “professional” guides too many students into pathways in which they do not find success.  It would have been greatly to their advantage to have been on track to enter programmes that took them into technical and trades areas much earlier and consequently to employment that is secure and leads to “good money”.

The image of the trades must be elevated in the eyes of parents who should be invited to see futures working in the trades as ones worth pursuing, and so should teachers, careers advisors and those who influence people.  It is time for us to dampen a little the hype around knowledge workers and think a little more carefully and critically about the snob status attached to law and medicine.  New Zealand needs highly skilled workers at all levels not just those in suits and power dressing outfits.

We also need to think more carefully about the values that we attach to words such as “academic” and “vocational”.  Get used to it – the distinction is now spurious and has little meaning.  All education and training that is valuable is both academic and vocational.  A report will be published in London today that identifies the greatest pressure that universities will come under over the next period of time will be the extent to which they will be able to show that they are “vocational”.  Get used to it!

The Holy Bible is full of tradespeople.  Giving them modern occupational descriptions that reflect what they did, we note that Cain was a metal fabricator while Andrew, James, Peter and John worked in the marine industry.  Joseph worked in building and construction and later was furniture-maker, Abel and David were in agriculture while Luke was a health professional.  Noah was a skilled shipwright and Adam a zoological technician.

Think of the impact on New Zealand of various tradesmen such as Parnell the carpenter, Kirk the roofpai­nter and railway engineer, Hillary the beekeeper and Muldoon the accounting clerk.

In the 2012 list of most trusted jobs the following rated highly:  fire-fighter, nurse, childcare-worker, hairdresser, builder, plumber, mechanic, waiter, shop assistant.

One does not have to denigrate the professions in order to promote the trades but a balanced view would place the options clearly in front of young people with good and accurate information about life prospects and the education and training pathways that lead to different outcomes.  The trail of failed young people who set off on journeys for which they were not prepared nor perhaps even realistically able to complete is a tragic commentary.  On the lop-sided approach we took which saw disproportionate numbers of young people ignore real opportunities for a successful and sound future in the trades pursuing the rosy but unrealistic glow of the professional Shangri-La.

New Zealand is at a point where there will be opportunity for young people on a scale perhaps never seen before.  If we stand by and do not get our systems for education and training cracking, employers will simply fill up large aircraft with the workers they need and bring them into the country to fill the jobs that our young people could have got had they been better prepared, had developed better understanding of those opportunities and had been the recipients of better advice.

If young New Zealanders do miss out the fault will lie not with them or their parents and caregivers but fairly and squarely with a wider community including the education and training community that allowed it to happen.  It is greatly ironic that if the Christchurch re-builds and the Auckland demands from growth and leaky buildings had occurred in the 1960s we would have been much more soundly placed to respond.

The real causes of the current situation are not only seismic events, demographic factors and weather-tightness but also an education and training system that allowed itself to forget that each and every student needed a pathway that led to satisfactory outcomes both educationally and occupationally.

 

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