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The transition from school to work - Speech

Hon Steve Maharey
Minister of Social Services and Employment
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
MP for Palmerston North

The transition from school to work – building partnerships and pathways

Presentation to the City of Manukau Education Trust school-work links forum, Nga Kete Wananga Marae, Manukau Institute of Technology

Manukau City, 9 May 2000.


Your worship Sir Barry Curtis, invited guests, friends.

Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to meet with you in Manukau City today.

I congratulate the City of Manukau Education Trust for sponsoring this very important and timely initiative.

I share the concern that informed the decision to convene this forum – that of the number of young people leaving school without the skills and qualifications required to tap into employment opportunities.

The forum is about school-work links.

Those links presently take a number of forms, and I note from the agenda for today's forum that you intend exploring a range of possibilities.

I applaud the fact that there are a number of initiatives already under way in Manukau City, including the partnership between Fletcher Challenge and Tangaroa College - a partnership that is increasingly viewed as a model that other members of the educational and business communities might usefully consider.

Through the previous Government's Bright Future package two one-year contracts have been signed with the Partners New Zealand Trust and the Canterbury Development Corporation respectively to broker similar partnerships on a wider geographical scale. I look forward to sitting in on the next session to learn more about how these initiatives are working out on the ground.

I have two objectives today.

The first is to spend as much time listening as speaking. The Government has some very clear views on how it would like to proceed in this area, but I would value advice from this audience.

My second objective is to outline the Government's current thinking, and I want to do that by firstly focusing on the problem that we are seeking to address, before outlining some of the initiatives that might be taken.

School and business – a partnership of equals

Let me pose two questions, and then attempt to provide some possible answers:

 What kind of relationship do we want between schools and business?

 What kinds of skills, aptitudes, and attitudes are we looking for in those looking to make the transition from school to work?

My focus today is on the school to work transition, not school-business partnerships, although I am very firmly of the view that the latter – relationships between schools and businesses –can provide opportunities that allow students to make the transition.

I see school-business links as a subset of the bigger issue of the transition from school to work.

Let me comment on school-business partnerships.

The first point I would make is that the key issue is one of partnership. Schools and businesses should engage as equals, and the terms of engagement should be largely about providing an opportunity for schools to advance their mission within the communities in which they are located. Businesses are key actors in those communities.

Partnership implies a relationship of equals, and school-business partnerships should not be viewed as an opportunity for schools to be dominated by the concerns of the business sector.

The business sector is an incredibly diverse one, and it is difficult at times to identify a coherent business view. For example, who speaks for business? Anne Knowles, Steven Tindall, Roger Kerr, or Dick Hubbard?

What are the objectives of the business sector in seeking to develop partnerships with schools ?

 to assist schools in developing robust systems of management and governance?

 to assist schools with resourcing?

 to assist schools in developing and disseminating high quality advice on labour market and employment opportunities?

 to provide teachers with opportunities to develop their understanding of the changing nature of the world of work?

My response to all of these would be an unequivocal and resounding 'yes'.

But if the answers to the question were along the following lines:

 to engender in students an absolute and unquestioning respect for authority, or

 to ensure that the curriculum represents 'market forces' as in all times and in all circumstances preferable to 'State intervention',

then I would have some concerns.

What is the point that I am making?

Only that partnerships should respect the independence and integrity of the educational process.

Let me provide you with an example.

As a social democratic politician I hope that students in NZ secondary schools receive a balanced education, and that in the course of the social studies, history, or economics curriculum there is an opportunity to study the significance of the Labour Party in the economic and social development of this country.

But I don't want that to be to the exclusion of the other traditions in New Zealand political thought – I want students to have a sense of our history and of our present as one of a healthy contest of ideas.

 If students in economics are looking at the impact of minimum wage regulations on employment, I want them to be equipped to exercise informed assessments based on a number of competing models.

 If they are looking to understand politics and public policy I want them to appreciate the inter-connectness and interdependence of economic and social policy

So I would like to think that schools produce young adults who have independence of thought and spirit. But I also want schools to produce young adults who have the requisite skills and knowledge to participate in work and in society. That means producing students who are educated to the highest possible levels in what are popularly known as the basics.

If students have the ability then they should leave school with some fundamental capacities like the ability to read, to write and to count.

At the risk of a headline along the lines of, "Associate Minister of Education calls for a return to the basics", let me emphasise that I think most schools are doing a very effective job.

But the world has changed.

When I was leaving school you could get an entry-level job and perform very well at it without the kind of literacy and numeracy skills that we require today. Old jobs have gone, and those that are there require levels of skill and knowledge at a much higher threshold level than was previously the case.

What I am saying is that we want students coming out of school at that new threshold of personal capacity.

And we want them coming out of school with a well-rounded education – knowing a great deal about the history and the present of this place – Aotearoa – New Zealand, a South West Pacific nation, and about the communities and interests that go to make this place what it is.

I want students to come out of School with an appetite for inquiry and with the capacity (literacy and numeracy) that allows them to participate constructively and critically.

And I want them to have the confidence to ask questions, and as appropriate question authority – particularly the illegitimate use of authority.

I guess the other head-line that I would want to avoid is, "Maharey urges schools to produce students who question authority".

You will sense that what I am talking about is balance.

If I was an employer looking for someone to start in an entry-level position, say in a manufacturing concern, I would want that prospective employee to be literate and numerate, with a desire to learn.

And yes, I would want them to be someone who, if they didn't already possess an understanding of the disciplines of work (getting to work on time, having a capacity to work cooperatively as a member of a team), then to be able to acquire those disciplines quite quickly.

And yes, I would want that person to be someone prepared to suggest changes in the workplace, and for that matter, to raise immediately and assertively any concerns about inappropriate treatment of an individual or group within the workforce.

So, to summarise I want school-business partnerships, as one of the ways in which we can create school to work opportunities, to be based on a respect for the independence and integrity of the education system, and the need to produce individuals with a well-rounded and balanced education.

Social Exclusion

So how do we get there, and what is the Government going to do by way of public policies? Getting the right answers depends on asking the right questions. Having the right solution depends on correctly identifying the problem.

I have a simple model that I use to make sense of the challenges facing the Government in economic and social policy.

The problem that we are committed to remedying is the problem of social exclusion.

The opposite of social exclusion (social inclusion if you like) is a situation in which individually and collectively we realise the human capability of our citizens.

Capability is delivered when we increase capacity (individual, community, organisational) we provide opportunities, and we match the two

Capability is about capacity and opportunity.

I think that the school-work relationship provides one of the clearest examples of the way in which as a community (and I see Government as one of the partners in this equation) we can address capacity and opportunity issues.

Defining the problem

Let's first define the problem – when we focus on our young people what are some of the dimensions of social exclusion?

Clearly I can't do justice to the dimensions of the problem in the time I have, but some statistics indicate the parameters of the problem.

Despite school retention rates increasing and tertiary participation increasing there are still significant numbers of young people leaving school with low or no qualifications, and large disparities exist in student achievement, particularly for Maori and Pacific Island youth

Of the 51, 866 people who left school during 1998, 18% left with no or minimal school qualifications

Between 1986 and 1996 the proportion of Maori with a school qualification increased at more than double the rate for non-Maori. However, 1998 school leaver data shows that Maori are twice as likely as non-Maori to leave school with low or no school qualifications (38% as compared to the national average of 18%).

The corresponding figures for Pacific Islands and Pakeha students were 27% and 12% respectively.

The highest rate of unemployment of any age group occurs among the 15 to 19 year age group. It is of real concern that the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) results for the March 2000 quarter show that 18.3% of this age group are unemployed – 27,300 young people.

Labour force participation statistics indicate that fewer Maori and Pacific Island 15-19 year olds nominate themselves as being in the labour force than their Pakeha counterparts. The 1996 census showed that 59% of Maori and 51% of Pacific Islands 15-19 year olds were in the labour force compared with 68% of pakeha.

The Department of Labour provided me with a draft report last week which contained disaggregated HLFS data for the September 1999 quarter.

That data shows that the numbers participating in education declines rapidly with age, and employment rises. However as employment raises, so too does unemployment and non-participation. And the comparison between Maori and non-Maori participation is stark – 20% of Maori are unemployed or not participating compared to 8% of non-Maori

Moreover around 6,000 young people in the 15-19 year age group identified themselves as unemployed but still at school. This implies that there is a significant group of people who would move into work if they had the opportunity, and who are staying at school as a place filler. It may also imply that senior secondary school programmes are not providing the bridges between school and work. I imagine that there will be teachers in this audience who have faced the challenge of engaging with such young people

These numbers indicate the nature of the challenge – in terms of the model I introduced earlier they suggest the dimensions of social exclusion.

Successful transition from school to work

I said earlier that the remedy to social exclusion rests in fully harnessing individual and collective human capability. In terms of the school-work relationship the challenge is to encourage a successful transition from school to work.

Recent OECD research suggests that there are six key elements of successful transition systems:

1. A healthy economy providing job-rich growth
2. Well organised pathways that connect initial education with work and further study
3. Widespread opportunities to combine study with workplace experience
4. Tightly knit safety nets for those most at risk
5. Good information and guidance
6. Effective institutions and processes

My objective is to ensure that the policies we develop and implement as a Government encourage successful transitions.

The transition from school to work – policies to build capacity and increase opportunities

My objective is to ensure that we so have organised pathways into vocational education and training. The recently released Modern Apprenticeships initiative signals our intentions very clearly, and I am happy to answer any questions that you may have about that.

Those of you familiar with the Labour Party policy document, "21st Century Skills" will be aware of our intentions (I have some copies of the document here with me today). The policy is, in large part, one that we share with our Alliance colleagues and I am confident that what I am outlining here today is consistent with the views of both the Government parties

That policy goes to the STAR Fund (Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource), and to a new programme, "Gateway".

Schools receive STAR funding for the purpose of offering courses to their senior students. STAR funding is provided in order to allow students to undertake courses of study and/or workplace experience that lead to skills and qualifications which promote their transition from school to work or further education. The total funding pool for STAR in the present financial year is $24.5 million.

The proposed Gateway programme is about bridging school and work through work-based education and training for senior secondary school students.

What is unclear at this point is the extent to which the STAR funds are being used to provide vocational education and training pathways for senior secondary school students, and I have asked the Department of Labour to take the lead in examining school to work transition issues, and in analysing the kinds of programmes that are being purchased through the STAR funds.

What I want to see is a much greater range of school based pathways, and I am determined to ensure that funding is used to provide for vocational and academic pathways.

Our young people are staying on in school for longer, and I want to ensure that the education and training they receive is appropriate to their requirements.

I do not want to place our senior secondary school students in streams that are designated as having a higher or lower status and out of which they are unable to break.

But I do want students to have the choice – I want a student who is keen on taking up a career in journalism to be able to pick up unit standards towards a Diploma in Journalism while they are still at school.

I want the student who is keen on an engineering apprenticeship to be able to pick up unit standards through a work-based programme while they are still at school; I want the student who is keen on a career in the forestry industry to be able to start down her or his preferred career path while they are still at school.

And, consistent with the views I expressed earlier about the importance of a broad and well–rounded education, I want them to have the choice of taking a course in Te Reo or in English literature at the same time.

I very much hope that, once we have seen the results of the Department of Labour's work in this area we may be in a position to pilot a programme like Gateway, and to better use the existing STAR resource in a manner consistent with our Gateway objectives.

There are clearly a number of other programmes that are about developing capacity and opportunities, including Training Opportunities and Youth Training, and the provision of careers information and advice. I am happy to discuss the Government's intentions regarding all of these.

In closing however I want to raise the possibility of a further possible Government initiative, and I would value your comments.

Data from the last (1996) census show that in 1996 more than a quarter of all 16 and 17 year olds (around 26,700 individuals) were outside education and full-time employment. For Maori 16 and 17 year olds, the data shows that more than a third (6,900 young people) were outside education and full-time employment.

The British Government's Social Exclusion Unit has recommended as a policy objective that young people stay in education, training, or work with a strong education/training component until they are at least 18 years old.

I am looking at the possibility of taking a paper to the Cabinet on an education and training leaving age strategy that would involve the Labour-Alliance Government making a commitment to a medium term goal of all young people being voluntarily in education, training or employment with a strong educational element, up to the age of 18.

I would value your comments on the merits of the Government adopting this as a strategic policy goal.


In conclusion let me again applaud the initiative of the City of Manukau Education Trust in convening this forum and indicate my willingness and the willingness of the labour-Alliance Government to work in partnership with you.

In the foreword to the British Government's Social Exclusion Unit report on New Opportunities for 16-19 year olds not in Employment, Education and Training, the British Prime Minister talks of the possibility of a double dividend from well crafted policy –

 a better life for young people themselves, saving them from the prospect of a lifetime of dead-end jobs, unemployment, poverty, ill-health and other kinds of exclusion,

 and a better deal for society as a whole that has to pay a very high price in terms of welfare bills and crime for failing to help people make the transition to becoming independent adults.

That is my mission too – remedying social exclusion by lifting human capability. I look forward to working with you – in partnership we can ensure that the transition from school to work realises the immense potential of our young people.


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