JUST GOOD BUSINESS CASE STUDY : Workchoice – A Bridge To Business

It’s been nearly eight years since Jeremy Wright got his first hands-on experience of the engineering work world. At the time, he was sixth former with passion for racing cars – and little idea how he might turn that into career.
Now, with an engineering degree under his belt, an exciting few years competing globally in car design trials, and job at VT Fitzroy, he credits his Workchoice Days at BMW and Rockwell Engineering as “an extremely important guide into career I have passion for”.
His story is characteristic of many from the 130,000 or so students who’ve now taken part in what has become an important fixture in the annual calendar for many New Zealand schools – Workchoice Day. They include people like nzgirl and Flossie Media founder and CEO Jenene Crossan (Freer) whose day at Microsoft back in 1995 proved something of catalyst for her subsequent career in online media, notes Frog Recruitment CEO and long-time Workchoice trustee Jane Kennelly.
“There are so many stories. For small team, the Trust has had an impact on the lives of thousands of youngsters, but it’s also had phenomenal impact on the business sector.”
For all the talk about building closer links between education and business, the practical crossover opportunities are still limited – gap the Trust was originally set up to fill, says Kennelly.
“The aim when it was launched in 1994 by Roger Lampen [who still chairs the Trust] was to bridge the gap between education and business – between Year 12 student making that big decision about what to do when they leave school, often in something of knowledge vacuum, and the real world of work. It introduces youngsters to what people actually do inside the doors of business.”
And the benefits have always gone both ways, says Kennelly.
“The companies who get it really do get it – they understand walls don’t confine what they do, that they really are connected into and drawing from the communities in which they operate.”
The community aspect is very much part of the piece, agrees long-time Trust CEO Kathy McCombe.
“That sense of being socially responsible – of giving back to the communities in which you work is increasingly important for business. It’s also branding exercise – you get 20 or 40 students in your business and they talk to others about that experience.
“It’s also good for staff morale – there’s this injection of energy, of enquiring minds. It prompts people in the business to think about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what messages they’re giving young people. And young people have some very good questions. It allows staff to share their passion for the job.”
The opportunity to profile not only their business but their sector and help attract future employees, while an
obvious benefit, has proved two-edged sword for the trust as recession takes its toll on employment levels and hiring intentions.
“Some businesses have been dropping participation because they’re under pressure, often have reduced staff and have less leeway to take on youngsters,” says McCombe.
While Kennelly totally understands the pressures – though her company is doing well, recruitment has been sector hit hard by the downturn – she is also concerned that short-term considerations risk narrowing the already slim education-business bridge at time when making the right career choice is even more important.
“Often kids are struggling at school and don’t see the point of subjects like math or science, say. When they see it in action, it gives them new motivation.”
McCombe is quick with “for instance” – kid who has reputation for being bit of ratbag at school spends his Workchoice Day at Mainline Sheetmetals – learning to weld – and is hooked.
“He proved real natural so he turns up at the school career office next day and tells them he’s been promised weekend job if he gets maths and English level one. It just turned him around because he was pretty much failing everything at school but found this was something he could do.”
Other youngsters have undergone major change of heart in terms of career direction – like the youngster who was headed for an accountancy career until he had work experience in the health sector and developed strong vocation for nursing.
The health sector is one that could do with attracting more youngsters – reality that Geneva Health, long-time supporter and advocate of Workchoice Trust – has recognised. Through the Trust, it is able to expose lot more youngsters to the range of opportunities in the health industry – both now and into the future.
While Auckland-based DHBs are not on board, bunch of local students have been bussed down to Waikato to get insights into the sector, says McCombe.
“They had great big hall and what they called speed dating where students could talk to wide range of people about the jobs they’re doing, the skills they use and how they gained those,” she says.
One of the Trust’s biggest supporters is Fonterra, which offers site visits to students all around the country – offering taste of what it’s like working both locally and globally. As the company puts it:
“When you’re at school you may think you know what it’s like to work in 15-storey office building, or manufacturing plant that runs 24/7. You might even be able to imagine what it’s like having colleagues in 20 different time zones selling New Zealand products around the world. But until you can see it, smell it, touch it and feel it for day, you won’t know if it’s the workplace where you want to start your own career.”
The companies that get involved range from the giants like Fonterra to quite small companies and come from variety of sectors. Around 300 participate on Workchoice Day every year – some of those since Workchoice’s inception.
“Babich Consultants has been with us from the start; IBM is the same. We have smaller companies like Linfox Logistics and organisations like Manukau City Council who’ll be doing their 16th Workchoice Day this year,” says McCombe.
It’s been interesting to track the changes in workforce and skill preferences, she adds.
“When I look back to 1997/98, only 0.5 percent of young people wanted to be looking at maths and science and that was indicative of what was happening then. It wasn’t seen as interesting. Since then, there’s been lot more publicity around what’s happening in those subjects and the number of students interested has lifted to 10-12 percent.”
Retail has undergone similar lift and McCombe credits Workchoice experiences for helping to highlight the range of career options in such sectors.
It can change lives, says Kennelly – an unashamedly passionate supporter.
“Over the course of one day, thousands of kids in New Zealand are able to step outside the classroom, look at what is on offer for them in this country of ours – where we want them to be educated and to stay – and become clearer about where they’re headed. It’s something that benefits individual students, but long term it’s for the betterment of the whole country.”

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