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Tag: training

Getting education and training to work

San Francisco

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.


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NZ Yesterday, USA Today


San Francisco

Arrived in the US in time for the autumnal snows by the look of it.

But the very first newspaper I pick up devotes half of its front page with an articled headlined with “More high schools turn out hire-ready skilled workers”.

Noting that over the last three decades schools had dropped vocational education programmes with the result that only a very few schools had retained a capability to teach vocational skills leaving increasing numbers of students in a situation where the pathways to employment had been, if not obliterated then at very best been made obscure.

Project Lead the Way was established to create high school engineering and technology curricula. It is reported that one programme it established for manufacturing is now taught in 800 high schools. (This sounds like a lot of schools but remember that the US is a big place!)

These new courses are not a re-run of the old but rather ones that reflect the modern environment. A spokesperson for the manufacturing industry’s training organization says that “manufacturing is dogged by an outdated image that it is very physical, labour-intensive, you’re working with your hands, you’re getting dirty and there’s no career path….. Actually you are working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set in maths and science above what was required a generation ago.”

I wonder how much of our progress in New Zealand is hampered by such outdated views of the world of work?

And it seems that industry is keen to be involved. Siemens needed 1,500 employees for a new turbine and generator plant in Kentucky. It worked with the local community college to design the programme and then when graduates (with at least diploma level qualifications) finished their course they were hired at a starting wage of $US55k per annum.

Volkswagen did a similar thing in Tennessee with a programme to prepare students to repair and maintain the robots that are so important to Volkswagen manufacturing process. It built its own academy next to the factory and then had the local community college deliver the training. This is a high stakes programme that costs the company $US1m per student over three years. They describe it as a bargain since they then have workers with high-level skills. Typically the graduates of these programmes have at least an Associate degree.

Another programme that is gaining momentum is the community-college-apprenticeship model promoted by President Obama. This is gaining ground across the states and invariably involves industry and many high-profile companies.

There seems little doubt that vocational education and training (VET) is making a comeback in the USA just as it seems to be in New Zealand.

What are points to note in this? Well at this point they seems to be:

·         that the initiatives seems to be closely associated with employers and industry partners;

·         that they involve high schools / community colleges and those industries working in partnership;

·         that there is no shyness about preparing students to work in the kinds of jobs that are available locally;

·         that the picture is one of students performing well, getting qualifications and entering the workforce into well-paid jobs.

There are lessons in this for New Zealand. While we tenaciously hang on to the notion of the value of a generalized education for all, many students will continue to have low educational outcomes. While regional New Zealand fails to specifically prepare students to work in local industries, youth unemployment will continue to be a factor in the regions.

One of the industry leaders involved in these developments is enthusiastic. As the programmes spread and increase he sees emerging “a path to America’s new middle class.”

And all this on Day 1!


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Talk-ED: Trading Names


The use of both “academic” and “vocational” as terms that describe classes of education and training activity is one of those old hoary binary distinctions that might well be despatched to the rubbish bin.

We have for over a century loved to think that it was a matter of logic and orderliness that needed categories that were separate and neat and not blurred by subtlety. So “academic” and “vocational” served us well.

If you were “academic” you had refinement and intelligence and an innate ability to be a lawyer or a doctor or a philosopher, perhaps even a teacher (although I recall being told early in my time as a teacher that “gentlemen [sic] had MAs and teachers had MA DipEds!”). Not many people were considered to be “academic” – perhaps 10% of each cohort and that was about the number that therefore stayed in secondary school for five years and proceeded to enter the university.

I had the troubling experience as an imminent adolescent to have my identity as a learner called into question. At the end of primary school I was enrolled in a course to be a carpenter at the local technical college. The school principal intervened and insisted to my bewildered parents that I should not do this because I was “academic”. This cast a huge pall over the household. We had coped with many things but being called “academic” was beyond our experience. It was not just that we knew our place but also that we had bought into the view of those who pursued an academic track as being “brighter”. Further we did not feel that becoming a skilled tradesperson was in any way a second class choice.

But that was not a commonly held view. If you were more “vocational”, rather than “academic”, you were perhaps not so bright, you were better with your hands that with your brain, you like practical things rather than theoretical things, you used secondary school to pass through quickly and get out into the world of work.

Now, it must be abundantly clear by now, dear reader, that all of this was just nonsense. And yet I suspect the beliefs that kept these distinctions are still more alive than we would want to admit.

The Universities are clear about their right to inhabit the “world of academia” despite the fact that their publicity emphasises progression to employment and earning power – both strong indicators of a vocational orientation. In fact the developments within the university sector have seen the introduction of many more quite demonstrably vocational qualifications over the last 20 years.

So that leaves the “vocational” sectors looking as if they are left with only doing practical things. I don’t think that this true. “Vocational” is the new “academic” in as much as learning in such settings is both academic and vocational. It would be a brave assertion to try to say that this is not the case. Just because a sector has open access and is skilled in taking among the huge range of its students those who the education system has served poorly to that point points it seems to me to greater pedagogical skill than providers who skim the cream.

But I recently heard a university leader assert that “We do not train people!”  This has made me very nervous – the person that tested my eyes and prescribed the right glasses, the person that checked my hearing, my doctor, lawyer are all people with degrees from this very same institution. Of course they were trained!

It matters what names we attach to activity. CTE, VET, TVET are each an acronym that is used to describe trades training and preparation for many careers and professions.

CTE – Career and Technical Education – is a the term gaining ground in the US but I have a similar problem with that as I do with the academic / vocational split. Most learning could be described as having a career and a technical flavour.

VET – Vocational Education and Training – has been long favoured in Australia and other places as an accurate description and it does add “training” into the mix. This might please that University leader who assured a meeting I was at the other day that “we don’t train people.” But does it capture the broad range of areas that are covered in the VET sector? And as the university system has become increasingly vocational and about training, does it differentiate the sectors sufficiently?

Then there is TVET that is used in different places – Technical Vocational Education and Training. Now, this has a ring about it. “Technical” does accurately capture what much of the VET / CTE / TVET sector does. It is concerned in large measure with the middle level qualification the technicians that keep organisations, industries and operations ticking over sweetly and productively. It also takes note of the close vocational orientation of the activity – it produces job-ready graduates who have industry-current qualifications. And it does both education and training.

I think that TVET gets my vote.

Perhaps there are other ways of differentiating the sectors – a colleague of mine likes to refer to the universities as doing the work that you do sitting down while the VET sectors attends to the jobs you do standing up. Sounds good but too many exceptions. “Pracademic” was suggested to me – nah!

The key understanding is that all learning in this modern era is both academic and vocational and that this requires us to practice higher levels of parity of esteem than has been achieved to this point. To continue to have the great divide between what is thought to be “academic” and  that considered to be “vocational” is just another of those silly little habits of the past. And to ascribe status to it is even sillier – have you had to pay a plumber lately!



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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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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