Monday, 1 September 2014

Tools of the Trade

In general, my career practice focuses around clients on the senior management path: my background and training is in business management, so I tend to work with managers.
Trades are not my area of expertise. I know probably as much as any careers person and educator: the broad strokes, but not necessarily the detail. Too educate myself, I consulted my ‘go to’ colleague, Dr Google. I asked “What trades qualifications are there in New Zealand?”
Dr Google sent me to talk to the Trades Academies, part of the Youth Guarantee programme. There are 22 programmes and academies currently operating in New Zealand from Northland to Otago. The trades they support fit into five of the six of the vocational pathways (ie, construction & infrastructure industries; manufacturing & technology industries; primary industries; service industries; social & community sector. Only the creative industries do not appear to yet be represented in the trades). However, I must admit I found it hard to link the trades qualifications that graduates received with the actual Trades Academies programmes themselves.
I went back to Dr Google and asked “What trades do the Trades Academies lead to?” I found, after lots of interrogation of Dr Google’s suggested experts, that trades qualifications range from farm cadets to chefs; from electricians to carpenters; from drainlayers to hairdressers; from foresters to jewellers. There are many, many trades that a secondary NCEA level 2 or 3 graduate could undertake straight from the classroom, or that an NCEA level 1 graduate could go onto following pre-trades training.
Dr Google answered my question “What do students get from a trades qualification?” with some apprentices’ stories. For students who want to get on with life, the hands-on aspect of a trade is extremely satisfying. They get a break from the ‘normal’ education routine, instead learning and doing together. Dr Google put me in touch with Karen Vaughan, who told me that apprenticeship learning processes are “context-bound and informal, although the master/mentor generally sequences the demands of various tasks so the apprentice can learn and accumulate expertise through experience: observation, trial and error, assimilation and emulation.” That’s a major incentive for students who are itchy to get out there and experience the world for themselves.
Other stories related how an apprenticeship pays them while they learn, instead of them paying to learn: a key element of trades training which leaves successful tradespeople qualified, and education-debt-free at the end of their time. A further consideration is that many young people have had enough of the school environment: they want to find their ways as adults, and be self-supporting. An apprenticeship allows them to do this, to find their feet and their independence.
The next source Dr Google sent me to was a surprising one, and very useful. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) had great information on trades, with lots of links to the real experts. Through the CAB I went to visit New Zealand Apprenticeships which explained to me the great wrap-around services that now come with the trades programmes themselves. Each apprentice is supported by a training plan, so apprentices have some certainty. They know where their work is taking them, what they will learn and when, with the coming three to four years are mapped out. Anyone undertaking a cadetship has a mentor assigned. A student undertaking university training does not usually have that detailed an overview of where they are going, nor do they get a mentor. Something for the Higher Education sector to learn from.
Of course, you don’t need to be a school leaver to learn a trade. You might be in an industry already and become an ‘adult’ apprentice, you might be returning from a work break and want – or need – to retrain while earning (a great opportunity for primary caregiving parents returning to work). In this space, trades training is co-ordinated between the Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) and the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), coming under, as it is known elsewhere on our planet, the Vocational Education and Training (VET) umbrella. The ITOs broker apprenticeships with the employer, and manage the apprenticeship process, while co-ordinating the industry training requirements with the ITPs. The industry training needs is the province of the ITOs, known as “situated and tacit knowledge”, and are the ‘what we need to deliver to the client’ practice aspects of sector work. The ITPs then organise, codify (underpin ITO practice with theory) and deliver the training; and report back on apprentices’ learning.
Some school leavers are turned off to learning: their perception of school was, in the words of Gareth Morgan, a ‘psychic prison’. They distrust education, leaving school with no qualifications, and work – when they can get work – is in the Jobs Without Training (JWT) area. This leaves them even more vulnerable to the vagaries of a slow economy; they are the first to go, and the last to be hired. These people often drop into the NEET category: Not in Education, Employment or Training. Getting them into an adult apprenticeship can help to heal, and, in the words of Ewart Keep, apprenticeship training via “vocational courses have, relative to academic subjects, an inherently superior ability to re-motivate and engage the disaffected learner”.
The trick is to get these NEET people believing that they can succeed. However, Dale Williams, the ex-Mayor of Otorohanga, managed to do that so well that Dale’s Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs has seen zero unemployment in the town since 2006. The successful wrap-around programme which he set up has been packaged for the use of all councils in New Zealand.
The magic in a trade is where a journeyperson or tradesperson can go with it. Many go into their own businesses, forming the bulk of New Zealand’s SMEs[1]. Many travel, confident that their trades qualification will fund their OE[2] through world-wide skilled trades demand. Some continue on to university later, using their trade to fund their higher education. Others go into management, and expand their trades repertoire by learning leadership and management skills.
To explore the global shortage of trades, Dr Google sent me to our New Zealand skills shortage lists. The trades listed include bakers, electricians, weavers, mechanics, metal casters, metal machinists, plastics technicians, scaffolders and upholsterers. The long-term shortages for cadetships include every role in the IT sector; in trades, cheffing, automotive electricians, diesel mechanics, electricians and electrical lines mechanics. “Perhaps”, I suggested to Dr Google, “rather than importing these people, we could consider developing them ourselves?
We will not only be doing our client a great service, but will be ensuring that New Zealand has a steady supply of essential future tradespeople.



[1] Small to Medium-sized Enterprises: ie, businesses with fewer than 50 employees
[2] Overseas Experience

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