Following on from my visits to schools and prominent youth programmes I was keen to make contact with representatives from New Zealand’s educational research community. I was fortunate to be introduced to Dr Karen Vaughan, a passionate educationalist working as a Chief Researcher at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER).
Karen outlined a situation similar in many key respects to my experiences back in the UK, particular in relation to the opportunities available to young people and the importance of good career advice,
‘Yes, some does depend on where you live. Career guidance depends so much on the quality of the school and the opportunity to link with the community and so it varies widely. But most formal [careers guidance] is done at a school level.
‘There are not enough schools that take a deep view of helping students develop career management competencies. The career education job is often the remit of one teacher who also has many other competing roles. They tend to focus on the distribution of information to students through brochures, campus visits, or evening talks, for example. Information is certainly very important. Young people need to know about the possibilities beyond school. But then they need ways to make sense of those possibilities, to be able to choose wisely, or in some cases to have any choices at all. In all the research I’ve done with young people, this sense-making capability is what they want most. So we need all our teachers, not just the careers ones, to help students develop this.’
This appears a very valid point and one that encounters many of the challenges Nyk Huntington referred to in how you ensure good consistency, at scale, and across differing contexts, a point that was reinforced by Karen,
‘Urban schools have a wider range of resources available to them; places to visit, resources, people. You can do this in rural areas as well – just need to be more imaginative. But, also, perhaps teachers could also be more proactive in setting things up themselves. For this to work, teachers would need to understand this as part of their responsibility, and they would need the ability to integrate it into their everyday teaching. It cannot happen if it’s an extra thing that teachers must do because many are already so overwhelmed by all the demands on their time. The key is to teach in such a way as to involve students in real world activities and communities of practice. Ideally employers and other people in the community would also share in this responsibility’.
Having considered the availability and quality of careers advice in New Zealand we then discussed the challenges for young people actually entering the jobs market. This appeared a timely discussion, as youth unemployment remains a priority for many governments across the world. As I described in an earlier article, because of the lack of work countries such as Ireland have many of their young people moving away due to the lack of opportunities available to them at home. Ireland though are certainly not alone in this regard; Spain for example had a youth unemployment rate of over 57% at the start of 2014 as outlined in this article.
‘I think the same problems exist for young people [in finding employment] but now there is an even greater impact. It’s the age-old problem that you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t experience unless you have a job, and so that makes it even harder for young people to get a foothold. Often young people might worry about how low the entry position is. In my experience, for many young people – especially if they have a certain qualification, starting at the bottom can be hard to get their heads around. But as we all know – often it is about attitude most of all.’
The task of equipping young people with the skills and experience for the workplace is a challenge that many countries are similarly grappling with. And, like the UK, there appear similar tensions in New Zealand on the route available to achieve these,
‘Apprenticeships are seen by many to be a good route to help young people develop skills but these have always had their critics. People often think of apprenticeships as “just” working with you hands. But that’s not strictly true – you never use your hands without also thinking. There’s a lot of important knowledge and learning that is “embodied” – think of doctors developing a listening-base of knowledge with their stethoscopes or builders learning the feel of different materials to help them problem solve design issues.’
In the UK there has always been a very clear distinction (and in many people’s views bias) between academic and vocational learning routes. Although this is not true to the same degree in New Zealand there are certainly some comparable tensions,
‘In New Zealand it is different – it is more combined. We don’t have a Higher Education/Further Education split, but there is one in people’s minds. We often see it as one versus the other, or that one is better than the other, but that is not true. There was a big push on this after the earthquake in Christchurch with a big driver (for young people) being how much they could earn. But to say young people are motivated solely by money isn’t true. They are also motivated by the mastery of skills and job satisfaction.’
It was particularly interesting to hear Karen’s own individual perspective on the ambitions young people have for their jobs and the implication this has on society. Young people today – often refereed to as Generation Y, or Millenniums, are typically characterized as having a much closer attachment to technology than their parents and are likely to have multiple jobs in their lives rather than one more structured career. Whilst such stereotypes and groupings is the most simplistic generalisation it does emphasise another age-old problem – to what extent do adults really understand the next generation?
‘It is often said that older people do not think that young people like to work hard. I do not believe that is true. But young people do need to know why they are doing the work. Also, perhaps young people struggle to appreciate that the mastery of skills, development of expertise, and job satisfaction take time – which is a different experience from the more instant forms of gratification you can get from online shopping or liking something on Facebook. This isn’t something I have researched but it just seems to me from talking to young people – in life, and in my research, that it’s harder for young people to take a long-term view of things. I don’t think this is very surprising – it may be partly about the math (a shorter life with fewer experiences to draw on) and partly about the nature and pacing of modern post-industrial societies. I’m not saying those things now are inherently ‘bad’ but they do make for a different outlook than that of older people.’