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Goal opens opportunities for 15-19 year olds

Hon. Steve Maharey
13 May 2004
Opinion

Ambitious goal opens opportunities for 15-19 year olds

One of the things this government will be remembered for is the work being done to achieve our shared goal with the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs – that by 2007, all 15-19 year olds will be engaged in appropriate education, training, work or other options which will lead to long term economic independence and well-being.

Our spending in this area is an investment in the future. We are only going to be able to realise our potential as a smart, successful country in the 21st century if we ensure that the next generation is able to reach its potential, particularly over the next decade as the ‘baby blip’ cohort hits reaches school-leaving age.

Yet, while most young people make the transition from school into the world of work and further learning successfully, many do not. It is estimated that at any point in time around 10 – 15% of 15 – 19 year olds are not in education, training or work. At the time of the last Census 2001, there were approximately 265,000 young people aged 15-19 in New Zealand, so this represents somewhere between 27,000 and 40,000 young people.

Not all of them are at risk, but in many cases this experience can reduce their chances of finding employment in the long-term, and increase their chances of experiencing mental ill health or becoming engaged in criminal offending

The key focus of our goal for 15-19 year olds is on this ‘at risk’ group. But we also recognise the needs of a broader group who are unsure about their futures. Simply making sense of the huge range of choices available, both in school and in forming their career pathways, can be a real challenge for young people.

That’s nothing new, of course. There have always been people who have dropped out of school as soon as they were allowed to (or sooner), and the school-leaver who doesn’t know what he or she wants to do for a living is so common as to be proverbial. Leaving high-school in the mid-sixties, I was one myself. I drifted from job to job before deciding I needed to further my education. It was only at this point that night classes at university awakened an enthusiasm for academia, sociology and – through that – politics.

School-leavers these days, however, do not have the luxury that I, and my generation, had. The days of leaving school and walking straight into an entry-level job are long over. Young people today need to be well prepared with skills and a clear sense of direction before they walk out the school gates. Policy work of the last two years has identified the three things that our ‘youth transitions’ strategy needs to do.

Firstly, empower young people to make informed choices. Current guidelines require schools to provide appropriate career education and guidance for all students, but evidence shows that schools need more support to meet this requirement. The Designing Careers pilot announced this week is an initial step towards the improvement of career planning in all schools and will inform our decisions regarding the support that schools need. Every student in Year 10 at the 75 schools involved will prepare an individual learning and career plan with assistance from parents and caregivers, the careers advisor and their form teacher.

Secondly, don’t let anyone slip through the cracks. Partly because they are not eligible for an Unemployment Benefit until they turn 18, ‘at risk’ school leavers are often not ‘picked up’ by any Government agency once they leave school. That means that during this critical period of their lives they may not receive any assistance to help them into education, training or work. That was something that I have been working to change and the new Transition Service coordinated by the Ministry of Social Development will mark a major turning point. Piloted in selected locations, it will follow-up school leavers and provide proactive individualised assistance and support to those who need it.

Thirdly, build a range of options. This is something we started on right away with the introduction of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme and the Gateway scheme for senior school students. Institutional study isn’t the tertiary option for everybody, and learning in the workplace is by no means a second-best option for the less able. Next year, as part of this package, we will be expanding Gateway into decile six schools – it’s never been our intention that it would be only available for poorer schools. And, in response to overwhelming demand, we’ve agreed to fund another 500 Modern Apprentices.

Our goal is an ambitious one, but we are working systematically over successive Budgets to put all the pieces in place to achieve it. And, if we can, the rewards will be felt for a generation.

ENDS

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