Right now Year 10 student Nandita has no idea what she wants to do when she leaves school. This is hardly surprising – after all, chances are the job she may end up in hasn’t been invented yet, or she hasn’t come across it.

But a collaborative new programme that connects schools with tertiary education organisations and industry partners could help provide a relevant career pathway for the Aorere College student and her peers.

The programme – called P-TECH, or “Pathways in Technology” – was developed by IBM in 2011 and has been hugely successful in other countries, enabling students to earn relevant tertiary qualifications that connect to competitive entry-level careers in technology.

And now it’s New Zealand’s turn, with South Auckland schools Aorere College and Manurewa High School teaming up with Manukau Institute of Technology, IBM and The Warehouse Group to open their students’ eyes to where learning about digital technology might lead them.

An initial cohort of around 40 students will be supported to complete a five-year structured programme spanning NCEA and into tertiary education, earning them a New Zealand Diploma aligned to industry needs. They’ll then be “first in line” for entry-level jobs with industry partners, including IBM and The Warehouse.

Plans to bring P-TECH to New Zealand began a year ago, with BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope and Education Minister Chris Hipkins among those lending their support for the initiative.

Yesterday these plans came to fruition with the programme’s launch taking place at Aorere College. A group of Year10 students got a taste of the course material, dabbling in coding and robotics. Some took the opportunity to ask questions about how the P-TECH programme might benefit them.

Year 10 student Rex was curious about what technology careers await him at the Warehouse.

Michelle Anderson, Chief Digital Officer at The Warehouse Group says students often struggle to envisage jobs beyond checkout operators or shelf stackers. With industry partners poised to mentor the students through worksite visits and internships, the hope is that it will help them understand that there are a broader set of career options.

“For example, there are lots of exciting opportunities in the digital team for enhancing customer experience,” says Michelle.

Like many other industries in New Zealand, Michelle says the Warehouse Group is struggling to recruit people with the right skills.

The gap between what skills students are learning and what skills are needed in the workforce has widened. A report by the Digital Skills Forum in December 2017 stated that New Zealand has a significant and growing digital skills shortage. Industries are becoming increasingly reliant on data science, AI, cloud computing and cyber security and need people skilled in these areas.

The P-TECH programme is expected to help develop students’ interpersonal skills as well.

Mike Smith, Managing Director of IBM New Zealand (pictured here second from left with representatives from Aorere College, IBM, MIT Manurewa High School, and The Warehouse Group) gives the example of a P-TECH project in which students have to work out how to get a drone to deliver a package three houses along. As well as the technical skills engaged, the project also involved collaboration, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving – exactly the sorts of skills employers are looking for.

“What I love about this is it’s a window for these kids to look out on at a future that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” says Mike. “It’s changing the trajectory for kids who might have otherwise have ended up working in jobs that aren’t really paying well or aren’t enjoyable.”

Manukau Institute of Technology’s Stuart Middleton – who was a former principal of Aorere College – couldn’t agree more.

“This is about lifting kids’ aspirations, about seeing more of the world. They’ve got the smarts. But if they see that’s where they could head and they can dream of jobs that might not have known existed, instead of simply saying ‘oh, that’s beyond me’,” says Stuart.

“It’s all about managing transitions, about taking them by the hand and leading them through.”

IBM and the Ministry of Education are eager to see the P-TECH programme adopted in other parts of the country with more schools and industry partners coming on board. Mike is especially keen to grow opportunities for students in the regions, as well as the main urban centres.

If you’re a school or industry who is interested in getting involved with the P-TECH programme, please get in touch with editor@educationcentral.co.nz.



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