NZIM: A legacy for youth employment

New Zealand governments and educators have made generally poor fist of preparing the nation’s youth for the workforce. The errors are not unique to us. Even cursory look at the United States, Britain and other European economies provides stark evidence of the growing disenfranchisement of school leavers.
Being young is difficult to avoid and besides, the problem rests less with our youth than with their parents, educators, careers advisors, some employers and politicians. This combination of influencers is frequently conflicted and confused about how to tackle the task of preparing future generations for life and work. The confusion is worsening in direct relation to the increasing complexity of work options and instability of world economies.
No government could, therefore, leave more profoundly useful legacy than to create learning environment with policy settings that prepare school leavers for meaningful work life. For its part, NZIM is concerned that today’s workforce entrants are tomorrow’s managers and leaders. The Institute is mandated to raise the nation’s management capability. It needs more than another crop of sow’s ears from which to tailor its product.
Managers and leaders emerge from every corner of the learning and work experience world. Trades learning and workplaces are as fertile management spawning grounds as any ivy-encrusted academic campus. But, as NZIM’s newly appointed National chief executive Kevin Gaunt points out, New Zealand suffers from “serious lack of qualified trades people” – shortage that threatens to become even more acute.
The paucity of suitably educated and trained young people struggling to enter the workforce presents NZIM with double whammy. The shortage limits the feedstock of suitably schooled young people that it needs to build management and organisational capability. Simultaneously, it starves employers of the skilled individuals needed to grow their businesses.
Business and economics writer Rod Oram criticised the Government’s recently announced plans to spend more on youth unemployment while, at the same time, cutting $100 million from it industry training budget. There was, he wrote, sense of back-to-the-future about the measures. They were, he added, based on previously failed policies and didn’t seem well designed to get to grips with the real issues confronting industry training.
Southern Group Training Trust general manager Glenys McKenzie thinks some of the Government’s thinking is rooted in belief that paying subsidy to employers to recruit unemployed young people will reduce youth unemployment. “The strategy fails to recognise that under-qualified students are leaving secondary school poorly equipped for the real world,” she said. “Employers and other tertiary institutions shouldn’t need to provide these skills – that is school function which is inadequately addressed.”
Using the unemployment benefit as subsidy to encourage employers to offer apprenticeship is not always practical. As McKenzie says, many students are already disadvantaged and will need “intensive pastoral care” to have any hope of success. “And schools need to promote and endorse tertiary trade training as much as they do tertiary university training,” she adds.
NZIM Southern deputy chair Michael Weusten, who is also chair of the Engineering Trades Association Southland, shares McKenzie’s views on apprenticeship training and employment. They do not believe the current $5000 subsidy for training should exclude apprentices. The Government will get the best return on its investment from just that group.
They also think selective government policy on funding only those who are unemployed for three months or longer is unrealistic. “Many of these people won’t be well positioned to complete an apprenticeship.” The Government should, in their opinion, offer subsidised first year of job training or an annual registration fee to ensure that employers financially stretched to offer employment, would be able to do so. The increased demand would reduce unemployment and allow the market to select the best candidates for the jobs offered.
The reasons for and consequences of increasing youth unemployment are complex and potentially socially and economically explosive. Take look at what happened recently in England.
Employers are reluctant to recruit because of the uncertain state of the global economy. They are even less inclined to employ individuals without either the skills or the inclination to accept employment conditions that go with current market realities. According to McKenzie, many young people are unwilling to tackle menial tasks as first step to their employment and further training. “Their expectations of fair remuneration and job conditions are often unrealistic and disproportionate to their skill offerings,” she says.
Oram thinks the Government’s plans to cut industry training are based on an ideological belief that industry should cover off its own training costs. The problem with that approach, he said, was that when tried before in the early 1990s, companies opted out of training and simply employed those trained by their competitors or other more conscientious employers.
Industry is already sharing the cost and taking the lead in trade training according to McKenzie and Weusten. “But only industry members who are training are carrying the cost. We need to distinguish between and reward those that make the commitment to trade training rather than those who feast on the spoils without making any input or contribution to their training costs,” they add. “The Government could set up an industry training levy on employers and redistribute the levy to those who invest in recognised and approved trade training.”
Trades careers offer well paid and sustainable employment. This reality is not well understood by educators, consequence of which is that many school leavers fail to realise they must have enough base qualifications, NCEA Level 2, to complete an apprenticeship.
As Weusten says, some of New Zealand’s most successful businesses are small to medium enterprises that deliver trade-based services and are managed by trade-trained chief executives. “NZIM is well positioned to deliver management training and support to this sector,” he adds.
He and McKenzie advocate the introduction of practical trades training at intermediate schools so kids and parents are better equipped to make informed decisions about secondary school choices. They also want more specialist technical colleges, equipped with the best resources for trade training and attractive to properly trained workshop practice teachers.
The lack of properly qualified and trained trades people “seriously hampers management in New Zealand”, says Gaunt. “It makes it difficult for companies to progress. It forces them to spend time focused inwardly to create their own training solutions, rather than being externally focused on customers and the marketplace.” M

Reg Birchfield Life FNZIM, is writer on leadership and management. [email protected]

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