Just returned to San Francisco from the ACTE Conference in Nashville. I will come clean and admit that I found time to catch up with country music and, believe me, it is wall-to-wall. I am still humming “Kiss an angel good morning!” after having heard Charley Pride at the Grand ‘Ole Opry last night.
But what are the key messages I take from the very professional conference attended by 3,000 career and technical education teachers from both secondary and postsecondary providers? Well, it is one overwhelmingly clear message. We are talking in New Zealand a lot about progression to employment but are spending a much less focused energy on making it happen when compared to the US or perhaps I should say, best practice in the US – it is a huge country and the best is as good as it gets and the worst doesn’t bear thinking about.
I was astonished by the extent to which the high schools of the USA are developing relationships with employers and the quality of the articulation of this to the actual progression to employment at the point of qualification completion and employment entry from postsecondary programmes at community colleges and colleges (i.e. ITPs and other tertiary providers in NZ terms).
Simply knowing employers, being able to call on their support and regarding them as a friends of the institution just doesn’t cut it! What is called for is a deep and enduring relationship that requires both an effort at development, a bigger effort in maintaining, and a genuine partnership in the contributions of both the provider and the employer in the successful induction of the novice into the career.
This requires a number of features that characterise successful relationships between providers and employers:
- serious engagement of the employers in course development and implementation;
- involvement of employers and their enterprises in the delivery of the programme in a manner that enhances the relationship and simply doesn’t place pressure on the employer from a resource point of view (people, equipment and time);
- a willingness of employers to engage in internships / work experiences of different kinds and capstone projects because it is good for them rather than it being only good for the provider – in other words it is a relationship that adds value to the activity of both partners;
- a privileged position that sees the partner-employers having first cut at getting the best graduates;
- a shared commitment to developing in Career and Technical Education (when are we going to grow up and use this international description in NZ?) a clear pathway from training to employment, from learning to jobs and between those who prepare workers and those who employ them.
All of this requires a different way of working. It will require providers to become smart and nimble, to be professional and current in the provision not just in terms of the educational institution but in terms of the industry itself. Above all it calls for real partnership between the trainers and the employers.
Sometime I get the impression that in tertiary education we think it is about us. Bugtit never is. It is about the students, their families, the employers, their shareholders and employees. The providers simply engage the parties in assisting a student along the pathways from the point where they have reached prior to enrolment to the final and fulfilling position of being employed in a great job, a job they want to do alongside people who respect them and value their contribution.
It is a special responsibility that educators have. Are we up to it because we have the policy settings in New Zealand but the US is stealing a march on us in their work with employers and in a much harsher environment.