School students gain from employer engagement

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A Waikato organisation aimed at connecting schools and employers says its partnership programme is having significant impact on thousands of students in the region, boosting their intention to stay at school, interest in their subjects and qualification aspirations.

Survey results from students involved in Smart Waikato’s Secondary School Employer Partnerships in 2017 show having business people in the classroom and visiting workplaces has lifted their local awareness, with more than 60 percent of 544 respondents saying it increased the likelihood of them staying in Waikato when they leave school.

SSEP connects schools and employers, introducing Year 9 and 10 students to a wide range of careers and supporting contextualised learning in specific subject areas. More than 4000 students from 22 schools have taken part in the programme since it was piloted in 2016.

Hillcrest High students experiencing science in the milking shed with dairy farmer Justin Downing

Hillcrest High students experiencing science in the milking shed with dairy farmer Justin Downing

Smart Waikato chief executive Mary Jensen says the results, overseen by a senior analyst from Hamilton City Council, demonstrate that better connections between schools and industry, and showing students how what they learn applies on the job, increases student aspiration, retention and interest.

“It is excellent to have the anecdotal success of SSEP backed up by in-depth analysis,” she says.

“We constantly hear about students – and teachers – having ‘lightbulb’ moments when they are speaking with employers and visiting workplaces. Now we have the evidence that 79 percent of students experiencing SSEP better understand why they are studying the subject at school, and 75 percent are more interested in the subject.

“Students and their teachers have had so many rich experiences as part of SSEP.”

She says they have done everything from using maths to work out roofing solutions with Comag and setting tables for a large-scale banquet with Montana, to designing their own wharenui and seeing how science is applied at the region’s water treatment plants and Fonterra dairy factories.

“It really does bring their classroom learning to life.”

One student, whose parents were unemployed, visited Timpack in Hamilton and afterwards told his teacher that he now felt confident there was a career path open to him, Mary says.

Tokoroa High School Year 10 social studies teacher Chris Teague says taking the students into the workplace at Hancock Forestry Management gave them a first glimpse of life outside school.

“It was awesome to get them into a professional environment… they have never been in a professional setting before,” he says.

Tokoroa Year 9 business studies teacher Latisha Kelly says her students got a “huge amount” out of their classroom visit from BNZ, learning about a range of life and soft skills.

“The students also asked some really interesting questions,” she says.

Businesses were also benefiting from connecting with their future employees and helping to shape school curriculum.

The measurement of the programme also shows SSEP participation boosts student intentions to stay at school longer by 30 percent, their interest in the subject area by 50 percent and their qualification aspirations by 30 percent.

The programme targets students before they make decisions on NCEA subjects and introduces them to key industries identified as being important to the local economy, such as ICT, trades, engineering, business, health and primary industries.

Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga science students at Waikato District Council’s water treatment plant.

Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga science students at Waikato District Council’s water treatment plant.

“Everybody wins because it encourages more relevant subject and vocational pathway choices, improving career prospects for young people and, ultimately, better meeting the needs of local industry and the economy,” Mary says.

Along with rolling out the initiative to all schools in the region, Smart Waikato plans to establish an SSEP Resource Centre, including training, advice and facilitation support services.

“The resource centre will help build capability to ensure the initiative is sustainable well into the future.”

SSEP has been supported by Waikato Means Business, WEL Energy Trust, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, Mercury Waikato-Tainui Partnership, COGS, Glenice and John Gallagher Foundation, SKYCITY Hamilton Community Trust and Waikato Farmers Trust.

• Smart Waikato’s Secondary School Employer Partnerships have been named finalists in the Economic New Zealand MBIE Excellence Awards for 2018.
SSEP, a region-wide collaboration between business, iwi and community involving 22 secondary schools, 2300 students, 110 teachers and 140 employers, is a finalist in the Best Practice in Collaboration category of the New Zealand awards.

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