Connecting education with industry

May 2014

Education Review asks Workchoice Trust chief executive AMANDA WHEELER about why the upcoming Teachers’ Workchoice Day events are such a great form of professional development.

Q Education Review: What is Teachers’ Workchoice Day all about?

A Wheeler: Our strapline is “connecting education with industry”, and that’s at the heart of what Teachers’ Workchoice Day is all about. Ongoing and frequent discussion between those who educate our young people and those who employ them is rare, but absolutely key to ensuring the smooth transition of young people from their lives as students to motivated, valuable employees. Our event is helping strengthen that bridge, by getting these two invested parties talking. The morning conference-style sessions allow educators to hear first-hand from experienced business leaders about recruitment trends, successful models of transition and talent needs, while the afternoon session gives them a real-world experience of industry through their chosen industry visit. They take away a fresh perspective and new knowledge that can be shared with students back in the classroom.

Q How did the event come about? Is it plugging a gap, or contributing to a wider effort to align schools with industries?

A There’s most definitely a gap and it’s one that’s widely recognised here in New Zealand and globally. The most comprehensive study we’ve read on the topic is McKinsey’s “Education to Employment” report. One of the key statistics they highlight is that a third or more of employers believe new hires do not measure up, while educational providers rate students more highly. That’s huge. That’s saying that a great report card might take you to the top of the class, but it isn’t a golden ticket to a job.

This is why the term ‘skills shortage’ is so highly publicised. Employers are unable to find skilled workers, but youth struggle to find employment. And, while being unemployed for months, or years at a time is an immediate problem for a young person, it’s a slower build for industry. Only now are companies starting to notice that they’re not pulling in great new talent to keep their pipeline of staff moving. By arming their teachers with more tools to ensure youth have the soft skills industry requires, we can give them the edge they need in a competitive work market.

Q What were the main ‘take home messages’ from last year’s event?

A That ‘soft’ skills are invaluable. We heard from many teachers that they were interested and surprised to hear how much weight employers and recruiters give to interpersonal skills; a good attitude, reliability, and a willingness to learn. On the ‘hard’ skills side, a full driver’s licence remains one of the best tools a young person can have under their belt, increasingly more so as there’s a current downward trend in young people getting their licence. And finally, that industry representatives really want educators to understand they view themselves as a key client of the education sector. That means the ideal outcome of a young person’s education is someone equipped with skills ready for the workplace, in an industry where staff are required.

Q Will you do anything differently this year?

A Working in conjunction with industry training body, The Skills Organisation, we’re delivering fresh content, new speakers and updated market information – this conference is not a one-off for educators to attend once and tick the box. This is about being part of ongoing discourse with industry. We’re committed to delivering an innovative and motivating day to ensure attendees gain real value from Teachers’ Workchoice Day 2014. We’re also improving logistics, such as transport, to ensure the day runs smoothly.

Q Do you think educators can sometimes lose touch with what’s happening in the ‘real world’ of work?

A Some industries move very quickly, so without an opportunity to get inside those workplaces it can be easy to fall out of touch with current requirements or standards. But the modern world is also changing rapidly and non-traditional workplace practices are becoming very common. We’re in an age where digital CVs, Skype interviews, group interviews and remote working are the new ‘normal’. What we have is a diverse and varied ‘real world’, so everyone benefits from getting a glimpse into one another’s world during the event.

Q How can the Teachers’ Workchoice Day events help connect the dots between curriculum and the workplace?

A We’ve had first-hand feedback that teachers who attended last year’s event have incorporated their experience directly into their classroom. Information such as entry requirements, on-the-job training, progression through an industry, and the everyday functioning of workplaces, were relevant and useful for sharing with students. During the afternoon industry visits, companies were asked to share real projects that could be taken back into the classroom. Some attendees were also able to arrange with companies to bring their students back for an ‘eye-opener’, which is a great way to complete the circle.

Q Do the events address industry trends, such as shortages and over-supply, career pathways, and emerging occupations?

A Absolutely! We make sure we keep this up-to-date by calling on industry experts to share their insights. We’re thrilled to have Peter Osborne, the head of Trade Me Jobs, speaking on the current market and trends. We’re also running two panel discussions this year, focused on the topics: “NZ Apprenticeship Pathways” and “Let’s Future-proof our Growth Sectors.” This really targeted discussion will give educators good perspective on the careers or skill-sets their students should be considering, and where employment will be most likely as they move on from study.

Q I’ve heard a teacher describe last year’s Teachers’ Workchoice Day as the best professional development they’ve undertaken in eight years. Why do you think the event is such a beneficial professional development opportunity for secondary school educators?

A There are no other events like this which allow educators and employers to connect directly with one another and focus on stimulating youth employment. When you put representatives from the country’s top businesses together with a group of really passionate, motivated educators, good things will happen.

Q Is the event a two-way street? Does it allow employers to engage with educators and learn what is happening in New Zealand secondary schools, about school curriculum, culture and what matters to today’s students (who are essentially tomorrow’s employees)?

A Yes! Many attendees from high schools were surprised that employers who don’t have teenagers are often out of touch, particularly in relation to the requirements of curriculum and testing. All-the-more reason for this conversation to be opened up, so that all stakeholders in the youth employment journey better understand each other’s needs and challenges.

Q Ultimately what do you hope teachers will gain from attending this year’s Teachers’ Workchoice Day?

A We want teachers to leave with the confidence, knowledge and experiences that allow them to be ‘Careers Advisers’ to their students in the subjects they teach.