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Tag: skills

The long low croon of the steady Trade Winds blowing*

Stuart Middleton


13 November 2015

I am sure that there is a discernible breeze getting up among the education trees.

I have recently spent time with Iwi groups who are looking at the value of such developments as the MIT Tertiary High School in jump-starting an improvement in Māori educational achievement. Demand for places in trades academies is increasing markedly and schools are asking for trades courses to be delivered within their programmes and on their premises.

In Alberta, Canada, I made a presentation (via video) about the MIT Tertiary High School to a major government education conference and there is ongoing work taking place to look at the value of such a development in Alberta, a province which probably has been more successful in adapting and changing than the more vaunted Ontario.

In the weekend papers a story is told of a set of early childhood education centres in the UK that is using experience with real trades tools and activities and a setting (workbenches, real materials and so on) to develop quality motor skills and social skills among the preschoolers.

At the other end of the age range, the University Technical Colleges developed under the leadership of Lord Baker of Dorking, are taking high performing 15 year old students into a STEM oriented programme and having them complete a first university degree by age 18 years. Why that age range? Lord Baker says simply: “14 years is too early to start specializing and 19 years is too late to get on with a career.”

As these English speaking systems get on with trying to address disengagement and failure (just as we are) some principles emerge which should be the foundation for future actions in response to the achievement issues.

Early access to applied learning will open up a pathway for students who are jettisoned by the university-bound track that constrains the senior secondary school programme. We hear so much chatter about different learning styles, about De Bono and and his jolly hats, about reflecting students aspirations and on and on and on but we see no action in response.

Early access to applied learning through the trades ticks all the boxes – a range of different learning styles can be catered for and the highly demanded skills of team work, planning and discipline are able to be integral parts of the programme. But most of all, when students reach the senior secondary school age they are wondering about their futures beyond school and trades programmes give a line of sight to employment and careers. Education become purposeful rather than for no obvious reason.

The age range 14-19 years is critical if we are to address disengagement and failure. It is where disengagement occurs, it is where the failure become manifest, it is where students become dispirited as they realize that they are ill-equipped for the world ahead. They are lured into a future as a NEET because it seems to be the only option. But what might once might have seemed to be the rosy glow of Shanghri-La quickly turns out to be neither rosy nor rewarding.

If we are to canny sailors we should be responding to the breeze before it develops into a storm that defies containment and might well be beyond our capability.

* Trade Winds John Masefield

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The middle as a worthy goal

It used to be the practice when starting a career that entry was at the bottom and you learnt the business by working your way up. This was thought to be good for young people and gave them the practical knowledge that infused real life into what it was that they had learnt in school and in postsecondary places such as universities.

This seems no longer to be as popular as the notion that a degree will take you, if not to the top, then certainly to the other side of those lesser tasks that keep the business actually running. This ambition has further fed the growing view that a worthy goal is to see everyone with a degree level qualification.  And the middle classes hanging on to preserve what status they have insist on nothing less for the next generation while those clamouring to join them see it as a ticket to ride.

It doesn’t stop there either. Governments in the western world have made an art form out of generating goals for the proportions of the population that should be degree qualified. The USA gamely wants everyone to have a degree, the UK and Australia link arms at the 40% mark. All three might be better devoting energy to seeing that all young people successfully complete secondary school!

The real issue is that such “stop only at the summit” approaches ignore the realities of how business and enterprise is organised. There are people working at the top of every organisation but there is also a larger group working at different levels below that. There will in some businesses even be a place for the unskilled provided that they are at least employable.

But the real gap is in the middle. If education systems are focussed on turning our degree level students in two groups (those who succeed and those who don’t) and with the encouragement of governments have persuaded the community that this is the favoured route to the top, fewer young people see the middle qualifications and skill levels as being worthy of the effort and attention. This leads to a shortage of the technically skilled and western economies turn to immigration to address the shortage.

Not only is such a situation bad for business, it doesn’t serve the needs of young people well at all. Giving to young people the opportunity to engage in applied and technical education earlier is emerging as a key strategy in retaining them in education and training and in developing those literacy, numeracy and digital skills that underpin all employment now. Evidence is that when engaging in technical and applied programmes at around 14-16 years, young people can not only discover a confidence in themselves as learners but also are inspired by a line of sight to a future job. In turn that job could turn into a career. Instead too many are being lured into a degree/university track and become the failure fodder for those that succeed.

Why, it should be asked, are western countries all madly addressing the issue of skills shortages and at the same time pumping increasing numbers into educational tracks that can never address those same shortages? The long term damage could be considerable to both economies and to individuals. We need to seriously address the image of the middle – no longer is it a middle earth populated by grease-covered grunting types who are “good with their hands” and answer to the orders of others. The modern middle requires a wide skill set, has a wide range of work situations many of which show the impact of technology on activity now. Leadership skills, team skills, and all that bundle of attributes that are sometimes called the “soft skills” are of the highest order in the middle. These are also the markers of the educational programmes that lead to CTE certificates and diplomas and associate degrees. By the age of 18 or 19 years those who have been taught well will have started on their journey.

The good news is that if they really have been taught well then they will be back because the middle is a good place at which to start a career. Not just good for them but also good for us.


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Talk-ED: The Aspirations of a Three-year Old


Chatting to a friend over the weekend she was telling us about her grandson.  I will call him Taylor for that is his name; he is three years old, lively and normal.  In response to a question about what he was going to do in the future he told his Nana that when he was five he would go to school and after that he would go to university.  “Why will you do that?” his Nana asked. Quick as a shot the answer cane back – “To get a job!”

And that is the middle class advantage, growing up with a possibility that develops into an expectation and becomes an aspiration.  I would be certain that Taylor doesn’t really understand at this point just what it means.  He will know about school because they walk past the local school often enough.  He will know about jobs because Mum and Dad both have them.  But already the connections between schooling, postsecondary education and training and jobs are starting to grow in his mind.

Middle class children get all this with their cornflakes. It’s part of the chatter that goes on in those homes and it becomes a powerful factor in sustaining young people such as Taylor through the 16 or so years that come between his simple plan and the future.

So starting the talk about jobs as an outcome of education is very important.  But it often is hidden behind a number of myths.

Myth 1.                                                                                                                                         

Most of the young people we are teaching will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented.

This is patently untrue.  Most young people in education now will go into jobs that exist now and many will work in jobs that have been around for a long time.  Those who do go into the cutting edge of employment, into the jobs that are really new are not these novice workers starting out but the experienced, highly skilled and workers.  The jobs the children in classrooms now will need to be skilled and prepared for are the jobs that are out there now.

Myth 2.

We have to prepare young people for a future in which they will have seven careers.

“Career” is a very funny word. Can you set out to have a “career” or does one simply emerge from the set of activities and experiences that are accumulated over time? Is a “career” something you look back on, a useful term that means all the bits and pieces I have done?  Is there a difference between changing your job quite a bit and a career that is usually applied to substantial experience in the same vocational area?  And that’s the point – we have changes in our jobs bit not necessarily a change of jobs.  I have had one job all my working life but I have had six positions.  I am an educator – I guess that is my career – but I have added skills as different positions have demanded them.

Preparing young people to get into the workforce – to make a start in a career by getting a job – is a key outcome for schooling and tertiary education and training.

Myth 3.

There aren’t any jobs out there.

Try telling that to employers desperate for skilled workers.  There are jobs for those adequately prepared.  The sad truth about youth unemployment is not that young people are unemployed, although that in itself is not to be desired, but that so many young people are unemployable.  You hear quite a lot of talk about university graduates who are clearly under-employed,  that is to say that they are working in jobs that require skills and knowledge at a much lower level than their qualification demands.  That is not a good thing at all.  But with young people who are perhaps early school leavers, the skills of employment are a balance of practical skills as well as what is called the “soft skills” demanded by employers.

These so-called soft skills are attributes such as a strong work ethic, a positive attitude good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to accept and learn from criticism, flexibility/adaptability, and working well under pressure.  How would our students score if those were the heading on their report card?  And could we point with confidence to our programmes and show that each of these is explicit in them?

Add to this that employment also requires knowing other things as well – language, mathematics, science of one kind or another and so on.

Yes, Taylor has got quite a lot to do before he gets that job!


Announcing the Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  [email protected]  or P:  09 968 7631.


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Talk-ED: It's about more than rebuilding one city


The last week ended with the news that unemployment in New Zealand was continuing to increase and was now at 7.3%.  Maori unemployment is at 15.1% while Pacific Island levels are at 15.6%.  Furthermore 113,000 workers want more hours but the work just isn’t there.

Remember that these figures are based on those “actively looking for work”. They do not include those who are not looking for work and this would include quite a lot of young people. The unemployment rate for youth world-wide and especially in developed economies is showing a worrying rise – New Zealand stands at around 25% nationally with both Maori and Pacific Islands over 30%.

Add to this the NEETS and you have a lot of New Zealand’s population not working. You do not have to be a wizard to see a crisis in the making here which will take a a very long time to pull around.  Action is called for.

But New Zealand has unprecedented demand for workers. The Christchurch rebuild, the leaky homes response and the general planned growth in the Auckland region will all require huge numbers of workers.  With a little bit of imagination and some funding, the answer is there.

But what do we see?

There appears to be a recruiting campaign in the UK to recruit people to come to New Zealand to “help re-build Christchurch”.  MP Nicky Wagner appears there and reports that interest was high.  In fact the various spokespersons for this effort report interest running into the hundreds.

It is interesting to note that these kinds of efforts seem often to coincide with a rugby tour or major event such as the Olympic games!

So we are actively seeking overseas labour and skills instead of growing our own and remember that this should not just be at entry level but also up-skilling those already in industry to the levels needed to lead the enlarged workforce.

So what is happening? Well, the most notable recent contribution to all this in New Zealand has been the stripping of hundreds of training places out of the polytechnic system what would have provided those critical first steps that lead to the sorts of skills needed. There is no urgency at all being applied to solutions and the kind of emergency response needed to address the crisis.

The recently announced South Island initiative with 900 people being offered jobs after 6-14 months training is a start.  But it is a small effort – even if the places can be filled from the South Island (and this will be interesting to see) it is not aimed at giving robust qualifications to people but seems instead to be an effort to produce hammer-hands, and shovel bearers. The inspiration for the programme is from the depression of the 1930s.

It would be better to seek inspiration in the 1940s.  Between 1944 and 1953 New Zealand trained 7,000 ex-servicemen to help them find work after the Second World War.  This was under the aegis of the Rehabilitation Board and the training was predominantly in building trades.  What were they building in those days?  Well, there was substantial Government involvement in building state houses for a start and the Government was still the major source of work-based training (80% of apprenticeships were with government organisations).

It was also out of this time that the special efforts in trades training such as the Maori Trades Training Scheme emerged.  The Technical Correspondence Schools was started (later to morph into the Technical raining Institute and finally into the Open Polytechnic).  The initial focus was on offering national training in trades subjects.

The current dangerous mix of unemployment and youth requires just this sort of response – a special effort to get young people into skilled work and at the same time seek solutions to other issues – Christchurch, Auckland, leaky homes and schools and refreshing and expanding the the national housing stock and suchlike. These are normal times and abnormal responses are appropriate.

But they can only probably come from the Government.  Private industry seems no longer to have the appetite to see its role in training young people and receives little encouragement from a lack of incentives to do so and a schooling system that seems to want to hang onto young people regardless of outcomes.  The default position for industry currently seems to often to be to seek skills in overseas markets.

The various crises we face have within them unprecedented opportunity to re-position New Zealand’s skilled workforce in a way that will serve the country well over a very long period. It requires a national effort – young people the length of the country could benefit from the demand for skilled people flowing from Christchurch and Auckland.



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Pathways-ED: Youth and work, youth in work

Stuart Middleton
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.



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Talk-ED: Education creates jobs

Stuart Middleton
29 August 2011

There is a lot of talk currently about the importance of job creation if economies are to position themselves to grow out of the recessionary murk that pervades. But a lot of this obsession misses the point.

Education creates jobs. Jobs won’t create education and the benefits that go with them. So the focus only on a so-called “pipeline” that has jobs at the end of it misses the point. There is another pipeline that matters more – education.

The reason that so many young people are unemployed is not solely because the number of jobs has decreased but significantly more so because so many young people are unemployable. Even if the jobs appeared overnight the impact on the great pile of unfulfilled potential would be slight. The creation of youth employment rates would similarly put a few into work but they would not make the unemployable ready for work.

Years ago, the Manukau City Council, in a move rare among territorial authorities at the time, wrote an economic development strategy. It then was obvious that alongside that there was a need for an employment strategy. Having completed that, it was clear that the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle of a well-educated and knowledgeable community was an education strategy. Education begets employment begets economic growth.

It is no coincidence that Silicon Valley grew around Stanford University –indeed it got its start on Stanford land and with a great push from the Stanford Research Centre, established to give impetus to economic development after the Second World War. (Stanford University could also benefit from the income from land it couldn’t sell!) People like David Packard and Bill Hewlett weren’t recruited through an employment programme and subsequently turned out to be quite good – they were proven graduate students invited to pursue their work in the Stanford area. Education leads to job creation which leads to economic growth.

Some of the mythology around Bill Gates talks of how he “dropped out” of Harvard. Burst through the top would be more accurate than drop out of the bottom. He was greatly successful at every step of his education, well supported by his parents and got a great start at his exclusive primary school. He got opportunities to explore computers both in school and through parental connections in private companies; he produced the computer programme for scheduling classes at his school; in his sophomore year at Harvard the development of new computers presented him with what he saw as an opportunity to set up a company which he did with his parents’ support and approval. Educational “dropout”? Not for a moment. Education leads to job creation which leads to economic growth.

If there is a challenge in terms of economic growth in New Zealand and Australia it is the challenge of so many young people who at the point of completing their basic schooling do not have the skills to continue with an education that would make them employable. Once upon a time there were opportunities for such youngsters – low skilled and unskilled employment offered a chance to them to get a foot in the door and on the ladder. But that has dried up. Once upon a time a benign employer would give a raw kid a chance and that often turned out well. But that has dried up.

The young person who has the skills of employability – team work, communication, leadership, time management, creative thinking, striving for excellence – and can back these up with good literacy, numeracy and digital skills will be likely to be able to successfully seek employment. More so, if they have completed an educational programme in disciplines relevant to the field in which they are looking and can clearly demonstrate a few personal skills of energy, commitment, enthusiasm and good verbal skills. It probably helps not to have bits of wire stuck through odd places and tats on the forehead. None of that seems too hard and those who successfully complete their schooling and a postsecondary qualification will generally measure up.

We need a steady supply of such young people into the labour force at all levels so that those ahead of them can create the new jobs. Growth comes from such leadership and will never be created simply by wishing it could be. It is not the new recruit who will produce growth, they simply make it possible for the experienced and the developers and the entrepreneurs to do so.

Therefore is it pointless becoming paralysed by the clichés? We need to prepare people for jobs which don’t yet exist – what about preparing them for the ones that do? Everyone will have seven careers in a lifetime – what about getting them ready for the first one? We need new kinds of integrated skills – it helps to have skills that can be integrated. Growth happens because successful and highly educated professionals pull disciplines and activity in new directions creating new opportunities for those coming in. Businesses expand because they can do so with some confidence that there is a skilled workforce able to support the growth.

Economic growth is reliant on our creating more people who instead of taking from the public purse are able to contribute to it. And that requires high level educational success for all. Education creates jobs. When education fails, it only creates jobs in education. Education outcomes trump labour market outcomes every time!


Pathway-Ed: Educating on purpose

Stuart Middleton
9 March 2011

As educational professionals we are letting ourselves down by the continual use of wishy-washy statements about the purpose of education.

“We must prepare students for jobs that have not yet been invented.”

Really? Are workers going to live long enough to actually outlive whole occupational classes? Change doesn’t happen cataclysmically to the extent that in a short space of time, an occupational class disappears. In older times a book-keeper used to sit at a specially designed table that held the ledger book entering income and expenditure into it in a copper plate script. He (for it usually was) used the same principles that are used in entering income into a spreadsheet on a computer. Just as the pen replaced the quill now the pen is replaced by the cursor. The job has changed only to the extent that the tools required to undertake it have changed.

Sometimes new jobs arise such as, perhaps, a CNC Designer. Again, new tool but same old job that applies the principles of design learnt with a pencil and drawn on a drawing board. And so on.

“Well, then we must surely educate people to cope with seven jobs in a lifetime.”

Now, some people might work for a lot of bosses over a period of time but usually in the same occupational area. Even top executives who move from corporate to corporate would do so on the basis of taking with them a skill set that is identifiable, what they are known for and what is sought by the new employer. There is little evidence that we will have seven jobs that are in entirely different areas. We might well have seven jobs in the same discipline. I have personally had a huge range of jobs but all in educational institutions, each requiring growth in my set of skills and I have never sought a job outside of education. I guess that this is typical of most in education and in many other areas.

When the phrase “no previous experience required” is used in an advertisement it is usually code for a position that signals low or unskilled work. But people who develop a career usually do so within a pretty consistent skill set which might well continue to grow over time but which seldom head off in a wild tangential swing into a new field.

Finally there is that purpose that distracted us in the 1970s – we have to prepare people for increased leisure time. I didn’t know that back then when there was pretty well full employment they really meant part-time work or unemployment for they always spoke of a shorter working week, longer weekends. Well, it soon turned out in the 1980s that this was not to be the case – fewer people worked longer and increased numbers didn’t work at all.

So what is the purpose of education? Well I think it is simple. The purpose of early childhood education is to prepare children for primary school. The purpose of primary school is to prepare students for secondary schooling which in turn should prepare students for a vocational pathway. The notion of a “vocational pathway” includes all post-secondary education including the university.

The purpose of the university is to prepare people to contribute to society through high level thinking, the ability to have new ideas and to give new nuance to old ideas. But each of these high and new thinkers will need to make a living so regardless of the vocation they move into, it could be said that the purpose of a university is vocational. Of course some discipline areas – medicine, law, engineering town planning and so on – are blatantly vocational while other areas of study are preparing students for articulation into a postgraduate vocational programme such as teacher training and post-graduate specialist courses.

If the purpose of education ultimately boils down to being vocational then it makes sense to say that we are preparing people for whatever it is that they will need to next – in early childhood education it is primary school, in primary school it is secondary school and in secondary school it is post-secondary education and training or work. Good learning at every level is a mix of hard skills and soft skills backed by the technology that is typical of the time.

Simplifying purpose then sets the stage for a simpler set of goals and purpose. What should students know in order to be ready to start primary school, to enter secondary school and to graduate from secondary school into post-secondary education and training or into employment? Is that too hard for educators to agree on?

Now this simplistic framework is simply the skeleton on which education hangs so many exciting, extending activities introducing us to worlds we might never have known in which we might do jobs that we are prepared for because someone has the commonsense to teach us the skills and the knowledge to do a job that exists!.


Paving the way for skill development

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.35, 11 September 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The Government in New Zealand, like its counterparts in the UK, Australia, the United States of America and Canada, seems to realise that powering up education to get behind any economic recovery that will be sustainable relies on their being able to stimulate the participation in and appropriateness of technical education. Each of these governments share a view that a sustained economic recovery cannot take place without a skilled and well-trained work force.

Little wonder then that the technical education sectors are coming under both the microscope and the blowtorch in each of these countries. This has seen a reversal internationally of the relative underfunding of Career Technical Education (CTE), as it is now commonly called, and with that a much closer scrutiny is being paid to its organisation and delivery.

In New Zealand we have seen this trend.

In developing a policy setting for senior secondary and post-secondary education that highlights skills, trade academies and the Youth Guarantee policy, the Government has signalled clearly that it too expects to see greater emphasis in this area.

The first shots have been fired with a wholesale review of the nature of governance in the ITP sector. Moving away from large Councils based on a representative model, the recent Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill calls for slimmer councils of eight members that reflect the skill sets required for governance in this critical sector. Clearly the financial performance of some of the institutions in the ITP sector is seen largely as a failure in governance. Failure in the wider financial sector, in national sports bodies, in local government and in many not-for-profits is often a failure of governance so there is nothing particularly special about the ITP’s in this regard.

But addressing this issue in New Zealand is unusual and the Government has acted in a decisive manner.

Sitting alongside this is the call for ITP’s to move out of Level 1-3 programmes. The Government is stuck between the horns of a dilemma (this might be code for two views around the cabinet table with Treasury providing impact from the bench). If significantly increased numbers of people are to access Level 4+ programmes then they will have to start below that level and be stair-cased through. There is a capacity among PTE’s for provision at Levels 1-3 but not on the scale required in some communities to get the numbers into Level 4 + that are required and where that capacity exists it is in some institutions already working as a pipeline into Level 4+.

So quite simply, some slack has to be cut for the ITP sector in this area. Two other factors should also be taken into account – the extend of Level 1-3 activity in the university sector and the policy settings aimed at getting our young people moving.

A little over 2% of enrolments at universities are at Levels 1-3 (this does not include the arrangements that exist for such activity for universities to take place in associated PTE’s and other such arrangements). But the range is wide – 10% of activity at one university is at these levels while at some there is none. A differentiated tertiary sector really needs to sort this out.

The other aspect is the excellent Youth Guarantee policy – the opportunity for 16-17 year olds to continue their education outside the setting of a secondary school but retain the free education entitlement that applies to secondary school students up to the age of 19 years. The first iteration of this will see recipients of funding to Level 1-3 programmes. Eventually this will have to be addressed if the policy is to make a real impact in terms of numbers. The reason why pathways outside of the school system are needed in the 15 – 19 year age range is that some of the students in the schools do not make progress at Levels 1-3. It is logical therefore that the alternative pathways offered to them include a good set of options at Levels 1-3.

On the one hand ITP’s are being encouraged to restrict their Level 1-3 offerings at the very time where opportunities in ITP’s at this level will be very important to the skills thrust of the Government.

Finally there is the division of the ITPO sector into the six “metropolitan ITP’s” and the “regional ITP’s.” This 6/14 self-imposed split is based on the premise that there are in New Zealand two kinds of ITP that have different needs and which therefore require different responses in terms of funding, management and governance. No doubt this will all play out over time.

But perhaps there is a hint in the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill that allows for a single Council to have responsibility for more than one ITP that the TEAC suggestion of hub and spoke models for tertiary is about to be revived in the ITP sector. And will that tie in with the Metro / Regional distinctions? And will that tie in with the rationalisation of Level 1-3? I think that is trying to stretch what is happening into a conspiracy and a little too far!

The key action is the interface between the K-12 education system (ECE / Primary / Secondary) and postsecondary. For mn60% of students the system is functioning well and existing provision is quite adequate.

But if the country has aspirations to develop the skilled workforce on which the economic recovery will rely if it is to be sustained, then attention cannot be allowed to stray from: 

  • the provision of early childhood education throughout all our communities;
  • the issues of those young people who are disengaging from schooling;
  • the qualification levels of the bottom 40% of school leavers;
  • the provision of seamless pathways into whatever should be next for those students;
  • the acquisition of meaningful industry-recognised qualifications.

That is why the ITP sector is crucial and has to be working well. And none of this is to say that there are no issues in the rest of the tertiary sector but the Government has identified the right plce at which to make a start.

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Technically speaking

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.31, 21 August 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The 100th monkey notion has long appealed to me. It is based on a story about monkeys who would eat sweet potatoes after digging them out of the ground. They would eat them dirt and all. One day, a monkey washed the potato in a stream prior to eating it and over a period of time others monkeys picked up this habit. Then a remarkable thing happened – monkeys on another island started to do the same thing, then on another island, and another until washing sweet potatoes before eating them was established as the natural way of working.

This was an early version of what Malcolm Gladwell called “the tipping point” I have been up in the Pacific with a trade delegation and I observed the approach of another tipping point in education.

Countries are starting to realise that the removal of the hard skills of industrial arts from the curriculum has not turned out to be such a good thing. While it seems logical to give all students a smattering of understandings about technology it has had the unintended consequence of triggering the demise of industrial arts, the workshop subjects, as a pathway for some students. Typically this lead to an early exit from school into employment and a continuation of training through apprenticeships and night school and such other opportunities as were available.

In Tonga, consideration is being given to a project that will see the tertiary technical institute introduce industrial arts subjects into the secondary schools. In American Samoa the community college is developing a similar programme. In Samoa there is also discussion of this. While in New Zealand the trades academies will see a significant thrust in the reintroduction of technical subjects.

None of this is exactly a return to what once was the technical stream or track in a secondary school. Common to all the approaches being considered is the involvement of tertiary education providers working alongside and inside the secondary school systems. And common to all the approaches is the desire to start young people on the vocational tracks developed in such subjects at an earlier age.

A recent book Education for All: The Future of Education and Training for 14-19 year olds (2009, Pring et al, Routledge) raises the issue of the language of education. It questions the language of business and performance management that has crept into the discourse (levers, drivers, delivery, audits, targets and so on), the changing of metaphors from those of engagement to those of delivery and the persistence of “false dualisms”.

Dewey in 1916 had raised the dangers of the false dualism of “academic” (the transmission of knowledge) and “vocational” (narrowly conceived as training to hit a target). Education has over the past half century blurred the distinction between these two terms. Academic study in the university setting is clearly marketed as vocational and indeed world-wide, universities have expanded their repertoire by adding narrowly focused qualifications. While on the other hand technical training has become increasingly sophisticated requiring considerable academic engagement.

It could be that “academic” now applies to both education and training while “vocational” is a description better applied to the motivation of students – let’s get rid of the mutually exclusive descriptions of different kinds of programmes.

Education systems are therefore starting to consider the role of secondary schools in pre-vocational education. This is made more complex by the collapse of the youth labour market which happened in good times and becomes a major issue in poor times. The focus keeps coming back to the 14 to 19 year age group.

Policy and programme development has increasingly settled on the 14 to 19 year age group as the area that should receive attention. It is the absolutely most vital age when decisions are made that determine much that will happen in the rest of their lives. Good decisions will bring steady rewards while poor decisions will bring misery and despair. And yet it is at the start of this age span where pathways have been destroyed and withdrawn. Countries around the world are now seeking new ways of bringing some of these back.

A New Zealand historian said that nostalgia is history without the pain so it is not a case of simply turning back the clock. There is no going back because what used to prevail in terms of employment and training opportunities is just not there. But the principles can still be expressed in new and different ways.

Allowing some students to engage in pathways that take them into the industrial arts from about the age of 14 might well give to them the same opportunities to be motivated and focussed as those enjoyed by students from professional homes where parents have had tertiary experience. We could dramatically enlarge the number of first generation students in our system if this turned out to be the case. The impact would be huge.

The 14 to 19 year age group is also a critical time when a young person can so easily change from being a potential contributor to their families and communities into one who takes and destroys. The pathway back from some of the places that our 16 to 19 year olds get to is difficult and hard. One of the commentators in the USA says that the only thing we know about second chance education is that the first chance would have been better.

This is not to demean second chance education, it plays a valuable role in our community and while it is a difficult pathway the successes can be spectacular. Night classes, small PTE programmes, foundation and bridging programmes, community education courses all provide potential second chance starting points. But this track should be there for those who need it and not as an alternative for young people. And the return to mainstream education should be hard-wired into these offerings.

Paying attention to the quality of the first chance at education is paramount. So too is getting young people through the 14 – 19 year age.

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Investing in change

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.28, 24 July 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

President Obama is keeping up the “Yes, we can!” theme with his latest support for the Community Colleges in the USA. He announced an American Graduation Initiative that would see $US12 billion additional funding going into the community colleges adding 5 million new graduates by 2020.

The USA Community College evolved as an alternative to the traditional four year college (i.e. university) that offered conventional higher education. The system received a boost in the 1960’s when California included them into the development of a comprehensive postsecondary higher education provision. The Californian Dream of everyone being able to go the college was to be realised with the help of the open access community college that led to a two year exit qualification (often the Associate Degree) or a transfer option to complete a conventional degree at a four year college.

The institutes of technology and polytechnics in New Zealand have taken on the role of community colleges but with a narrower and more focused vocational and technical orientation than the USA community colleges. They also have in the last 20 years added a relatively narrow range of degrees to their portfolios.

Both the USA and New Zealand share similar challenges – the gap in the middle of the skill range. The focus has shifted too much onto so-called high level qualifications and too far away from the middle level skilled technician. The call for increased numbers of students at Level 4+ is interpreted as a call for more degree level students. Qualifications such as the NZ Certificate in Engineering or Science and suchlike all once had a valuable role to play in feeding into those areas people skilled to undertake technician level responsibilities that supported the work of those with degree qualifications.

To mindlessly accept the creeping credentialism that has seen increasingly higher level qualifications required for work that while becoming different has not become markedly more difficult, has led to a series of distortions.

The 2006 New Zealand tertiary graduation numbers in critical technical skill areas make for an interesting read. It is hard to tell how many of the graduates subsequently replace that qualification with a higher one but the relative proportions of graduates at various levels remains somewhat constant. When a comparison is made of sub-degree graduates with degree (bachelor and postgraduate to masters) graduates, the balance is interesting. In Management the split is 64% (sub-degree) / 36% (degree), Engineering 71% / 29%, Information Technology 64% / 36% and Law 5% / 95%. So there is a sound basis for the assertion that we have too many students graduating at too low a level. Remember that these figures are for disciplines in which there is a need for low, middle and high level skills.

But when the figures are seen on a student number basis there might be an even bigger concern. NZ Prime Minister John Key suggested in a recent speech that we might be turning out too many commerce and law graduates and too few engineers and scientists.

For each single engineer or scientist who graduates at degree and postgraduate level, New Zealand graduates over four commerce and law graduates. At least our increasingly skill deprived economy will be well managed and regulated!

So is President Obama right to see the USA Community College as the place in which make a significant investment at this time? And would an investment in the ITP sector also be the right move just now? The answer is probably the same in both countries. In general investment in education does produce long term gains when it leads to a step change in access or performance.

Investment followed the 1877 Education Act which opened up primary education to all. In the early 20th Century New Zealand had an enviably high standard of living. There was additional investment in the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s as secondary access was expanded. In the 1950’s we again enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. Is this pattern a matter of chance? Of course some rightly argue that there is a multiplicity of factors that lead to high standards of living. True. But perhaps the decision to make a step change in education provision is the key.

So what might be that step change right now? It is probably the Youth Guarantee investment which will in some form or another offer students the opportunity to access free education for two further years beyond the age of 16 in settings outside the secondary school. In the development of the education system (see the steps in the previous paragraph) this is a logical progression. Simply encouraging everyone to continue in conventional secondary schooling might have the appearance of continuing our proud tradition of universal access to education but the stark facts of disengagement suggest that continued education is only a feasible goal when opportunity is offered in a range of settings.

We made a mistake along the way in thinking that “more” meant “same” and uncritical commentary about knowledge waves and information ages emphasised the need for high level technical skills rather than multiple pathways and a range of qualification exit points. This took our eye off the real prize – getting every single young person equipped to make a contribution. Not just some , but every person, whatever [their] level of academic abilitywhether … rich or poor, … in town or country, … [exercising their] right, as a citizen, to a free education [of an appropriate kind] to the fullest extent of [their] powers.

So we move into the next phase of our maturing education system, one characterised by increasing choice of pathways, of increased status to middle level technical qualifications and to a society that is inclusive in the allocation of access. Rather than defining access as getting into something or somewhere, we will learn to define it in education as an outcome – what does education give you access to?

Yachting and business legend Darcy Whiting died recently and his obituary noted that “… after leaving school at 13 with a Certificate of Proficiency, he attended night school for five years studying English, signwriting, engineering and cabinetmaking. During the day he worked as a delivery boy on a bicycle.”

Can we feel confident that the Darcy Whitings of our age will emerge from the education pathways currently available? If we could, then that would be a great guarantee to our youth.