Wide horizons ahead for new school leavers

Posted on 2016-02-01 by W McD

Article written by Josh Williams - chief executive of the Industry Training Federation.

OPINION: School leavers wanting to go to university could have taken some good advice from Chris Whelan recently.

Chris, from Universities NZ, rightly said that leaving school can be both exciting and daunting, and university is a great option for many young people. I don't think anyone would disagree that university provides experience, knowledge, and can lead to rewarding jobs and careers. But there are no guarantees, and while getting a degree is becoming more and more expensive, it won't necessarily lead to the job you're studying towards. While university isn't for everyone, there are plenty of other options. The good news for the class of 2015 is that business is booming, and skill shortages are looming. There are jobs out there.

The rise of apprenticeships

Last week we also heard, from TradeMe Jobs' Peter Osborne, that the number one search term at this time of year is "apprenticeships". Apprenticeships are fantastic options for young people looking to launch their careers and get ahead quickly. New Zealand currently has around 40,000 apprentices, and another 100,000 people, both young and less young, are undertaking industry training across a huge range of occupations and industries. A massive bonus with an apprenticeship, is you earn while you learn. You won't need a student allowance or the major setback of a student loan because you've got a paying job. You're gaining skills on the job, and working towards qualifications that are recognised throughout New Zealand and regarded very highly overseas. And the work itself is good. You make a difference every day in the trades and services. You build and run our towns and cities - houses, buildings, roads and cycleways. You deliver essential services - like power, water, food, and data. You take something that's broken, and you fix it. You take something shabby, and make it awesome. You help find solutions for real problems. At the end of a day's work, you can see the result of your efforts, and know you've done a good job. In the end, you're someone who knows how to do stuff - and we need more of those.

Young Kiwi women should remember there's no such thing as men's jobs or women's jobs. Those ideas are long gone and women are excelling across all our industries. The 2015 Competenz butchery apprentice of the year was female. The 2015 Connexis electricity generation and overall apprentice of the year was female.

So how do you get an apprenticeship? 

Call the industry training organisation (ITOs). An apprenticeship is an agreement between the employer, the apprentice and the ITO. ITOs arrange training programmes, set standards and award qualifications. ITOs know which employers are offering apprenticeships, and who is hiring. Some ITOs have registers of trainees and employers, and all can offer great advice on how to get going.

Knock on doors. Some industries don't even advertise, since they know people come knocking - make sure one of them is you. Practice looking at older people in the eye - I'm not kidding, it's amazing how often employers tell us how that alone signals confidence and the attitude that will mean they give you a chance.

Work experience really helps. Any part-time jobs or volunteering might matter as much as your NCEA results. If you don't have any work experience, then practice telling someone out loud about a time at home or school when you worked in a team to solve a problem, or when you had to organise your time to get an assignment done.

Use your smartphone to create portfolios: future chefs - take photos of your amazing kitchen creations. Future automotive technicians - make videos and photo diaries of your tinkering and modifications.  

You might not always land the apprenticeship in your first job - but getting in the door and taking opportunities is worth a lot. A job doing dishes is the best place to see a real kitchen in action. Ask the chef if you can come in early one day to see how they put something together - it's that kind of thing that shows them you are keen.

What will it cost?

Well, across the classic apprenticeships - builder, plumber, electrical, automotive, chef, hair and beauty, the answer is "about $1000 a year". This usually covers things like equipment, tools and short courses. You won't be expected to have everything you need on day one, and lots of employers will help apprentices out.  

What will you earn?

Very generally speaking, in your first year as an apprentice, you will probably earn just shy of $30,000. Do a good job and this will rise, sometimes sharply. They are certainly exceptional examples, but those stories you hear about tradespeople in their early 20s with houses and boats and businesses are true. Those stories about apprentices catching up with their uni mates and having to pay for the drinks are certainly true.

And what if you have no idea what you want to do?

This is another popular option when you are 17, and it's all good. Check out Vocational Pathways online. They use colour coding to show how your NCEA credits match up to jobs and career possibilities. There's a link on your NCEA results page, and you can explore them on Careers NZ. You can see if your NCEA has been endorsed for one or more Vocational Pathways.

So, best wishes class of 2015. Whether you get an apprenticeship, enrol in a course or go to university. My advice is the same: the whole point is to find your passion. And when you do - let nothing stop you.

Josh Williams is chief executive of the Industry Training Federation.