Back in the 1960’s when a student was clearly heading towards the wall there was usually one solution – find them a job!
The principal would be a member of the Rotary Club and that would be a port of call. Or the school would have built up a series of relationships. Usually the troubled (and troubling) young person was placed in an environment where they would be under the watchful eye of an experienced employee. A sort of “sit-over-there-next-to-Agnes-and-she-will-show-you-the-ropes” solution. But it worked.
Then it seemed as if in the late 1970s through to the end of the last century, education and employers went their own way.
When new relationships emerged in the 2000s something had changed and I have only just realized what it was. The relationships between employers and education were no longer about the students but were about the institutions. Marquee relationships were set up with businesses lending their names to buildings or developments. Educators got to know employers again but it was about the institution and a more social set than about the business.
It is now time for a radical shake up in this. What we know is that in a multiple pathways environment, and these are emerging slowly, in which transitions are blurred, the relationship between employers and education needs to return to a shared responsibility for certain elements of the students journey. No, it is not about money, it is about placing the human resource that business has next to the human resource of education.
In the 1990s I was lucky enough to lead Aorere College at a time when a fledgling Auckland International Airport Ltd was seeking to explore its community relationships. Aorere College was seen as a good starting point. And so there developed over a period of time a portfolio of initiatives that included activities such as:
- a mentoring programme, “Airbridge”, which matched promising Year 10 students with AIAL executive staff for the last four years of the students’ schooling;
- opportunities for the school choirs, among the very best in New Zealand at that time, to share in important events at the airport;
- the “Commercial Department” ran the Business Centre in the international terminal 356 days a year with a mix of student and employed centre staff – great and real work experience;
- the “Home Economics Dept” ran the cafeteria that served several hundred lunches to airport staff out of a commercial kitchen with an employed chef leading the work;
- the special needs units had for a time responsibility for some of the gardens at the airport;
- the AIAL had a representative on the Board of Trustees and I attended senior staff briefings at the Airport.
None of this involved truckloads of money changing hands. It was simply an excellent company and an excellent school going about their respective business but finding ways of working together with the students at the centre of each of the equations that drove the relationship. And this was just one of the relationships the school had that was of this nature. The Manukau City Council was another major partner.
The MCC operated the schools grounds, long and well used by the community but always a little out of control (!), as part of their parks network. It was an arrangement that suited both parties, the school had a much more controlled use of the fields while the Council had an additional park on which to place users in an area which at that time was short of such spaces. Aorere was one of the first four technology secondary schools and this was a further area of cooperation for students and council staff to work together doing real work – students helping with the drawing up of development plans, the geography department surveying a rural water course for the council.
When Aorere College had an employers breakfast it would have over a hundred “partners” attend.
Now some of this was also happening elsewhere spurred along in some measure by an early initiative from the Secondary Principals of New Zealand (SPANZ) when it ran several conferences on Schools and Business. This received the usual push-back from some quarters.
But that was then and we now need to design the new relationships bearing in mind the core principles that drove the work back then.
- it is about the students and not the institution
- it is about the curriculum and learning;
- it is about students experiencing real work not standing, scared, next to the till watching others do the work.
Whatever the level, secondary or tertiary, the relationships are not about money but are based on something much more valuable, long-lasting and precious, the wealth of human knowledge, willingness and social responsibility that is out there waiting for education to offer a hand of friendship.