Award recognises Waikato trailblazer linking schools and employers

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A Waikato charitable trust that created a New Zealand first with a student-employer partnership programme has won a national award for its trailblazing efforts.

Smart Waikato Trust’s SSEP programme took out the Best Practice in Collaboration (business, iwi, community) category at the Economic Development New Zealand’s 2018 Excellence Awards in October.

Chief executive Mary Jensen says it validates the hard work done on the programme, which was introduced as a pilot in 2016 and has grown since.

“This is the culmination of a massive team effort from our region,” she says.

The Secondary School Employer Partnerships (SSEP) see a range of employer partners working alongside teachers and students to create classroom and workplace activities that link curriculum to the world of work.

It links years 9 and 10 students with employers. The advantage of working with younger secondary school students is their greater timetable flexibility, and the opportunity it gives them to make good NCEA subject selections.

After being piloted in five schools in 2016, it now has 22 schools on board, out of 52 in the region, including 2300 students and 140 employers. The win is likely to spark increased interest from other regions in the scheme.

The aim is for students to have at least three interactions with employers and for there to be at least three employers per class. The programme includes workplace visits.

Smart Waikato want the scheme to help youngsters make better choices.

As Mary says: “To open their eyes to the world of work around them, to look at the local employment options, to realise that there’s a lot here for them in Waikato, to understand that they need to make wise choices and keep important subjects, to make sure they stay at school until they get to level 2 at least so that they set themselves up for life, to understand that they have to work hard to achieve their goals.”

The organisation has compiled an evaluative report on the programme’s effectiveness, in conjunction with a Hamilton City Council analyst.

It showed 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.

Mary points to the research findings at decile one Huntly College. “The aspirations levels have lifted incredibly.”

She also recognises that these are early stages and there are challenges around maintaining the connections they are helping build.

“The intention is that the relationships will strengthen between the teachers and the employers and that organically they will then morph into the senior school in a way that works for them both.”

A wide range of employers are involved in the programme, including large organisations such as Fonterra, Pak’n Save and BNZ alongside the likes of Pokeno Bacon and Thames Joinery.

Schools and employers sign up for three years and Smart Waikato is also developing an SSEP resource centre to help ensure schools continue those relationships. Alongside the online component, they are keen to run face-to-face workshops and seminars.

One Hamilton Boys’ High student has seen a direct benefit from the programme, after starting an apprenticeship with engineering firm Mainline last December, at the end of year 11. Owner Trisha King says they met him through SSEP at Hamilton Boys’ High and he did some after-school work experience with them before signing up for an
apprenticeship.

She says he’s doing well, and applauds the SSEP initiative for the way in which it raises awareness of engineering.

“It’s about spreading the word really, of all the different sorts of engineering that are available for these kids.”

Fairfield College deputy principal Malgosia Cholewa says the programme is “fantastic”.

She was head of maths when the programme started at the school, with maths as its focus subject.

They have worked with a diverse range of 10 employers, including L3 commercial pilot training facility, Anglesea Hospital, Deloittes, Fosters Construction and Montana.

Malgosia says it helps students both engage with their learning and also see what their future might look like.

“We had one student that didn’t know what she was going to choose the next year and so after going to Deloittes decided she really wanted to add accounting onto her subject choices for the following year. So that has been happening, it has changed the subject choices our students are making.”

Smart Waikato was formed in 2009. Its focus is on empowering young people through ‘real’ education to employment pathways, and as part of that it publishes FutureForce Waikato, a career resource magazine supplied to all schools in the region.

The organisation also recently launched FutureForce® Job Board, an automated, on-line portal where employers can post work opportunities for young people free.

The SSEP initiative is financially supported by MBIE, the Mercury-Waikato Tainui iwi partnership, Waikato regional economic development agency (Te Waka), DV Bryant Trust, Waikato Farmers Trust, Glenice and John Gallagher Foundation and SKYCITY Hamilton Community Trust.

Mary sees some urgency in what they are doing as the workplace changes drastically.

“Transformation needs to take place and communities need to all work together to support young people into the workplace so that a region can grow their own workforce.”

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