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Students get a step up and out

In part two of a four-part series, ANGELA YEOMAN investigates the journey of rangatahi [young people] currently transitioning from the liberal, progressive environment of Mākoura College into the wider world.

Ministry of Education data for 2022 shows that about 60 per cent of all school leavers across the country leave school for tertiary education. Others [including some of the 15 per cent of school leavers who leave with no qualifications] move onto work-based education such as apprenticeships, go directly into work, or go overseas. Every year, a very small proportion do not move into any employment, education, or training.

Mākoura College has about 230 enrolled students, about 60 per cent of whom identify as Māori. At the end of 2023, about 40 of Mākoura’s year 12 and 13 students will leave college.

What does the labour market they will be stepping into look like?

2023’s economy
and labour market

In June 2023, New Zealand’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.6 per cent, according to Statistics New Zealand.

World Bank unemployment rate data from 1991 to 2022 shows our current unemployment rate is at its lowest in over 30 years. In Wairarapa, the unemployment rate in June 2023 was even lower at 2.3 per cent, according to economic consultancy Infometrics.

New Zealand’s unemployment rate for young people in 1991 was 19.23 per cent. In 2022, it was 9.23 per cent – again, the lowest rate in over 30 years.

Data published by MBIE shows that the number of rangatahi who are not in employment, education, or training, decreased by nearly 10,000 in the past year.

And a recent Ministry of Justice report shows that youth offending, which is sometimes linked to unemployment, has decreased by nearly two-thirds over the past 10 years. The only exception is the category of burglary [which includes ram raids], which has increased.

Our labour market has been strong throughout the period of a global pandemic, a war in Ukraine, global inflationary pressures, and national and global climate disasters. Oil, food, and other price explosions are being experienced but people are still being hired, including young people.

Like many developed countries, however, New Zealand has the pressures of an aging population, and this can impact younger workers. Although some older people are retiring, younger people do not yet have the skills to fill their jobs. Other older people are deciding not to retire, so are not freeing up roles for younger people. And immigration settings are never easy, as they need to attract migrants [who we need] without crowding out young people from the labour market.

In addition, younger people searching for employment are not necessarily looking for just any job – they are looking for work that is a good fit for their talents and interests and can be balanced with other things in their lives.

In 1980, employers expected new hires to be grateful for a job. Rangatahi leaving Mākoura College today are stepping into a labour market with different pressures and different expectations than in the 1980s. Many intend to first gain further qualifications while working part-time in hospitality or retail to earn an income, before finding their perfect jobs.

Therese King, Mākoura College’s Year 13 Dean and Futures teacher stresses the importance of school leavers remembering that nothing is set in concrete for their futures.

“They all have lots of opportunities,” she says. “If one thing doesn’t pan out, something else will come along.”

That’s an important point for maintaining resilience and mental health in difficult times.

Mākoura College’s future focus

In 2015, King took on the role of administrator of Mākoura College’s Gateway Programme, which enables students to gain work experience while still at school.

Today, King still covers Gateway as well as career counselling and other forms of vocational education such as the STAR Programme, which aligns resources so students can have a taste of lots of different courses before committing to something, and Trades Academies, which involve secondary-tertiary partnerships.

“Through the Trades Academies, students can go to UCOL-Te Pūkenga or another tertiary provider one or two days each week, while still at school. It’s all about providing opportunities,” King says. “We are a small school, which allows us to mentor individual students. It makes a difference to them. We can see the impact of our support and guidance. There is a lot of worth in what we do.”

Individuality is fostered and nurtured. “You can be yourself and find your passions.”

The Times-Age interviewed a number of year 13 students from Mākoura College to hear about their time at school, their interests, plans, and hopes for the future.

A recurring theme from the students interviewed was the extent to which Mākoura College has supported them to prepare for the next steps and opportunities that fit them best.

Aly’s story

Aly’s passions are maths, physics, and chemistry. Mākoura College recently paid for her and a couple of other students to fly down to Christchurch for an open day at Canterbury University.

“It’s the best place in New Zealand for civil engineering courses,” Aly says, “and that is what I want to do.”

She’s a student leader and is leaving college with UE and, she hopes, an excellent endorsement overall in her NCEA Level 3 courses. Aly participates in additional afterschool classes in all three of her main subjects.

“I’m motivated. School has helped a lot,” she says. “The teachers are so involved and pay attention to how I’m doing. They help me out when I’m stuck.”

Aly has learned it’s important to have an idea before you leave school of what you might do when you do leave school. Her brother left in Year 11 but came back at some point to do NCEA Level 2. Right now, he’s looking for work.

“It’s important to have a Plan A,” she says. “For me, that’s civil engineering. I like the practical aspects of it. If that doesn’t work out, however, Plan B is to do a different course at university, and Plan C is to join the police.”

There might also be a Plan D, to become a builder.

Aly’s hopes for her life in 10 years’ time are to live by the beach, surf every day, and never worry about money. Ideally, she wants to get a good degree that will help her to get a job.

“I just want to be comfortable and happy with what I’m doing.”

She hasn’t thought about having a partner or children. “I like my own company,” she says.

Aly describes herself as competitive and motivated, and says she is lucky enough to have a great group of friends. She’s also hard working, having worked since the age of 11 – a paper run, cleaning, volunteering at Trade Aid, working at a fish and chip shop and Burger King, waitressing and – currently – as a lifeguard.

“Many of my jobs have overlapped,” she says. “I need to always be doing something.”

In her spare time, Aly bikes and runs. She also loves farming.

“My grandparents are farmers, and my granddad has always been there for me. I love spending time with both my grandparents and learning how to do practical things on the farm.”

Aly is just one of the extraordinary young people about to make the leap from Mākoura College into their futures.

Next Saturday, part three of this series will feature more stories about rangatahi transitioning from Mākoura College in 2023.

Angela Yeoman is a Wairarapa Times-Age features writer, a social researcher, and an author. Visit praxeum.org.

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