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Key: Putting Trades and Industry Back Into Schools

John Key MP

Leader of the National Party

18 June 2007

Putting Trades and Industry Back Into Our Schools

Speech to the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Northern.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. My particular thanks go to the Employers and Manufacturers Association Northern which has made this event happen. It’s great to be here.

I’d like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, National’s Education spokeswoman Katherine Rich, our trade training spokesman Colin King, and the many community and business leaders who are in the audience.

One of those leaders is Deidre Shea, Principal of Onehunga High School. Deidre Shea does a great job keeping a diverse bunch of students excited about school.

If you’re a student at Onehunga High and you’re interested in cars you can join the automotive course and get stuck-in to resurrecting go-karts, removing and replacing cylinder heads in engines and working with qualified mechanics. At the same time you’ll be learning the other literacy and numeracy skills needed for a successful career.

If hammers and nails are of more interest to you, then you can join the Building and Construction School, which might see you building a six-by-three metre mini house, constructing a shelter for the soccer team, or building a house for the IHC.

Some of you might know schools who offer courses like those at Onehunga High. But increasingly, these sorts of courses are the exception rather than the norm.

More commonly, the practical aspect of “technology” training is in decline in our schools. I’m not the only one to have noticed this. The PPTA has said recently that “technology is in crisis across the country”. And Business New Zealand agrees with them.

Schools up and down New Zealand are being forced to cancel or reduce their delivery of trades and industry training. That’s because in many cases, it’s not seen as a vital part of what they should be doing; there’s a shortage of technology teachers to provide it, and it’s perceived as costly and difficult to provide.

As a result, trades and industry training has been sidelined in too many schools and cut-off from too many kids.

So my speech today will deliver this message: It’s time to put hands-on, trades and industry training back into the heart of our school system. National has a vision for doing it and I will be a champion for the cause.

I want all kids to have access to a range of trades and industry programmes at secondary school.

I want to raise the esteem in which trades training is held and I want more young people to raise their self-esteem by doing it.

This will be good for two main reasons.

Firstly, it will help address the shortage of skilled workers in New Zealand.

Our skills shortage is preventing many of you here today from growing your business. It’s creating bottlenecks throughout our economy.

For several years now we’ve experienced skill shortages across a variety of industries including building, metal and machinery, textiles, and many others.

Perversely, just as industry is crying out for skilled workers to fill these positions, businesses report that many school leavers don’t have the basic skills needed for their particular industry.

The second reason National wants to revitalise trades training is the sad reality that our high schools are failing to connect with a large number of Kiwi teenagers.

More and more young New Zealanders are opting to leave school early. Around 4,000 each year are leaving before the official leaving age. One-in-five has left by age 16 and two-in-five have left by age 17. When these young people leave school they are becoming lost from learning.

Many of the young people who do stay at school aren’t getting much out of it. Their interest in education is strangled by a vicious mixture of boredom and low aspiration.

More than one-in-ten has no formal achievement record for their time at school, 30,000 play hooky each week, and many fail to achieve even basic NCEA literacy and numeracy standards. A horrifying 53% of Maori boys leave without obtaining even NCEA Level One.

Many of these unqualified school leavers end up becoming another negative statistic, alienated from education and not equipped for skilled work. Some might one day want to do an apprenticeship, but won’t have the reading and writing skills to start it.

We must do better for these kids.

I believe we can get a lot more young Kiwis interested in school, and achieving more while they’re there, if we offer them something practical, and something which might lead to a job they can be passionate about.

We need to do a better job of exposing students early-on to some of the hands-on industries that might fire up their appetite for education, be it; building, horticulture, farming or plumbing. I could go on.

These industries offer people rewarding careers that are high-skill, high-tech and frequently high wage. Skilled workers in these areas add real value to the economy.

To promote these careers we need to do a better job of integrating trade and industry focused learning into our schools. I’m convinced that if we manage to do that we’ll also make school more relevant and engaging for the hundreds of students who would rather learn how to weld than study Macbeth.

Students who get interested in hands-on learning options at school are more likely to do well in other parts of their schooling. Kids engaged in a construction course realise, for example, that they have to know some maths to calculate the pitch of a roof.

At Onehunga High you’re only allowed to work on the go-kart if you’re up to date with your other course requirements. For many students, that’s the kind of incentive they need.

Clearly there are very good reasons for putting trades and industry training back into our schools. There are also some pretty straightforward steps we can take to do this.

Technology curriculum and teaching

Today I’m going to talk about a few of the steps that National will take.

First up, we will ensure the technology curriculum puts appropriate emphasis on the importance of hands-on, practical learning opportunities.

The curriculum sends schools important signals about what we want our kids to learn and what skills are valued by our country.

In National’s view, the technology curriculum should make it clear that schools should provide students with opportunities to learn practical hands-on skills like metalwork, woodwork, textiles or any of the many skill sets demanded by modern industry.

The new draft technology curriculum doesn’t seem to say that. In fact, you must need a PHD in linguistics to work out what it means.

The draft technology curriculum has no reference to actually making things. Instead it talks of students, and I quote, “intervening in the world” and exploring “the characteristics of technology as a field of human enterprise”.

I have no idea what that means and I’m sure most students and parents don’t either.

Business New Zealand, the Industry Training Federation and teachers surveyed by the PPTA have all expressed a concern that the “academic focus of the curriculum potentially disenfranchises students”.

National will fix the technology curriculum by ensuring it contains references to the need for students to make things, build things and produce things.

Secondly, we will take urgent action to respond to the technology teaching crisis.

Schools up and down New Zealand are being forced to cancel or reduce their delivery of trades and skills training, because they can’t employ teachers qualified to take the classes.

Men and women who want to be school technology teachers need highly specialised skills in the area they’re teaching, and they also need a qualification from a teachers' college.

Even when they meet those requirements, many technology teachers aren’t as well paid as their colleagues with degrees.

The result is a critical shortage of people applying for jobs in schools as technology teachers.

To get a feel for the size of the resulting crisis it’s worth quoting some of the Principals who responded to last month’s school staffing survey. They described the shortage of technology teachers as “a nightmare”, “a major problem”, “almost impossible”, “a significant problem which will get worse, not better”, “dire” and “the death knell of the technology learning area”.

Schools are doing their best to get around this crisis.

Some offer their students specialist trades courses that aren’t run by registered teachers. Instead, they might offer a carpentry course or a horticulture course that’s run by a qualified tradesperson, who is good with school students, and might have had experience teaching apprentices or polytech students.

However, these people don’t have school teaching qualifications so they can’t be hired as teachers per-se. That means the Government doesn’t pay their salaries.

Instead, schools pay these tutors themselves out of their operations budget, and from funds raised in the community.

In an ideal world school Principals would like those tutors to go to teachers' college so they could employ them as teachers.

But it's unrealistic to expect qualified and experienced trades specialists to give up their earnings for three years so they can do that. Even people with advanced level trade certificates, who are permitted to teach tertiary level students, are required to complete a one year course to qualify as school technology teachers. Many people just aren’t prepared to do that.

Remember these are qualified trades people, and all of you who are trying to get your bathrooms renovated will know that trades people are in high demand.

That is why schools find it so hard to get technology teachers - that is, people who have trade qualifications, but who have also trained as a teacher. Obviously, schools don’t want to have to raid their operations funding to hire their own trades tutors, and should rightly be wary of putting any person in front of their students. Teaching is not easy and we need the right people doing it.

There needs to be a middle way here. There needs to be a practical, common-sense solution, because the current situation is just not working.

National is committed to finding a compromise that ensures more Kiwi students are taught trades and skills courses at school. This will require significant steps to increase the pool of people who can teach technology in our schools. National is committed to working with industry and teachers to make it easier for schools to find, pay, and employ people to take their trades and technology classes.

Community partnerships and off-site learning

National is also committed to helping schools overcome the funding and bureaucratic barriers that prevent so many students from accessing trades and industry-based education at school.

We want all students in all secondary schools, in all areas to be able to take part in hands-on learning in a range of industries.

We know that providing top-notch trade and industry training is pretty expensive. It requires specialist equipment, facilities and resources. I don’t think we should let that be an excuse for limiting kids’ access to hands-on learning opportunities.

As a first step to confronting this, National will encourage local businesses and industry to help provide schools with resources for trades-training. After all, they will ultimately end up reaping the benefits of better trained school leavers.

These resources might come in the form of specialist help from employers who can help with course programmes, offer work experience opportunities for the students, provide in-kind donations of equipment, or targeted sponsorship.

Onehunga High School has provided a good template for how schools can foster these relationships. Their Building and Construction School has been made possible thanks to sponsorship from businesses that want to up-skill the pool of people coming into their industry. Fletcher Construction, Hitachi and an array of other local employers have made valuable contributions, from construction material, to leather aprons, to making their industry knowledge available to the school. Students at Onehunga High take part in trades and industry training both at school and in the workplaces of local employers.

Aparima College in Riverton has also shown how the local community can contribute to schools’ trades and industry training efforts. They offer their students boat-building courses that prepare them for work in an important local industry. Their learning programme is enhanced by relationships with Invercargill boat builders Stabicraft, the Boatbuilding ITO and the Southland Institute of Technology.

I want to see more businesses and community organisations helping our schools in this way.

Obviously, the goodwill of the community and industry won’t be enough in and of itself. We can’t expect every school to have dedicated facilities for all of the industry areas that might interest students. We can’t expect for example that every school will have an automotive technology block.

So National will give schools more flexibility to offer their students trades and industry training opportunities outside their school-gates, be it; five hours a week in a textiles course at a nearby school with a specialist trades programme, one day a week in an ITO-approved garage down the road, or eight hours a week on a specialised food safety course at the local polytech or private training establishment.

The Gateway and STAR programmes have shown how this can work, but they are faint lights in an otherwise pretty dark room. These programmes are over-subscribed and provide a limited group of students with mere tastes of practical training.

National will make the off-site learning opportunities of Gateway and STAR a mainstream part of what schools can offer.

We will also encourage more schools to become specialist hubs for trades or industry training that is relevant to local needs. This will require partnerships with industry, local training providers and local employers.

I’ve already spoken about how Onehunga High has achieved this.

Northland College in Kaikohe have taken a similar approach. They’ve worked with ITOs, businesses and local community groups to come up with a trades programme that includes hospitality, catering, agriculture and carpentry courses.

To get this programme up and running school leaders have had to think well outside the usual square which the education bureaucracy might have them work in.

One of their initiatives shows just how creative schools can be in responding to student needs.

This month, a group of students from Northland College will finish building two houses on the school grounds. For the last few weeks they’ve been getting to school at 7.30 and not leaving until five o clock, so that they can get those houses finished. They’re supervised by a qualified tradesperson and they’re working towards a level four National Certificate in Carpentry – something schools normally aren’t allowed to offer. Those students are excited about school and they’re on the road to a great career.

What Onehunga High and Northland College are doing is not commonplace.

That’s because schools who want to offer these kinds of dedicated trades programmes have to overcome funding issues, administrative complexity, teacher shortages, red tape, and the fearsome demands of the Ministry of Education.

Principals and teachers running innovative trades programmes should not have to spend their lives jumping through bureaucratic hoops. We should make it easier for them and we should celebrate their success.

One way National would make it easier is by funding a select group of schools, who meet certain criteria, to run “Trades Academies”.

Trades Academies would be centres of excellence that specialise in providing school students with learning opportunities relevant to a career in trades or industry. These Academies would not only benefit their own students, but could provide courses for students from surrounding schools.

I think that giving these Trades Academies special status and dedicated funding would do a lot to promote pride and excellence in trades and industry training.

School-Based Apprenticeships

All of the ideas I’ve discussed so far today are about offering all students a wider range of industry and trade training opportunities.

Many of the kids who take part in these courses won’t decide what particular career they want to pursue until they leave school. That’s fine, the point is to keep them interested, expose them to a range of trades and industry career paths and keep their options open.

But there will always be a few students who know exactly what it is they want to do. I’m talking about kids who’ve known that they wanted to be a fashion-designer or fire-fighter since they were five-years-old. These students see school as a trial that has to be endured until they’re free to pursue their dream.

At age 16 they can sign-up for an apprenticeship in their dream job, but only if they leave school and find an employer who is prepared to take them on.

Why shouldn’t those kids be able to kick-start their apprenticeship at school?

Australia has offered students this opportunity with great success. Kids continue to gather credits towards national qualifications and they receive the wrap-around pastoral support offered by schools. The result is that they achieve more at school and complete their apprenticeships faster.

A National Government would pilot a school-based apprenticeship scheme similar to that offered in Australia.


In conclusion, let me restate that National is absolutely committed to addressing New Zealand skills shortage and equipping our future workforce with relevant skills.

We want to fly the flag for trades and industry training in schools.

I am confident that given the right flexibility and incentives schools can drive innovation in this area.

There is a clear need for this. Industry is crying out for better skilled workers. Schools and teachers are hunting for ways to keep students engaged. Students are hungry for more relevant learning opportunities.

But if schools are to do better in this area they’ll need more than the backing of a future Government, they’ll need the backing of their communities and the backing of industry as well.

So before I sit down, I would ask you all to think about what you or your industry might be able to contribute to this mission.

I am open to your ideas and I’m confident of your support.

I have no doubt that faced with my fresh ideas the naysayers will come out of the woodwork. I invite you to stare them down.

We shouldn’t focus on why this is hard, or why it can’t be done. We should focus on what we want to achieve and how we can make it happen.

After all, Northland College didn’t get its carpentry course going by listing all the reasons it might be hard. They got there by focusing on what was best for their students and working with their community to overcome the obstacles.

They saw a challenge and they rose to it. I know, and you know, that New Zealand is capable of rising to this challenge.

Let’s work together to put trades and industry training back into our schools.


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