The Auckland economic development agency Ateed has issued a report on the city’s prosperity that was greeted with a headline Two Aucklands, one experiencing strong economic growth, the other struggling to provide the necessities of life.

But it’s never helpful to think of people who are part of the same community as living in another city. Especially when they share the same aspirations for themselves and their families.

It is true to say there is a disconnect between the economic fates of Aucklanders though there isn’t a great divide between us. In fact from where I sit in my office in Ōtara, the difference is the width of a single road.

Across from our campus stand the state houses built by successive governments. While unemployment in the area is close to double the national average, when I arrive at work in the morning many parents in the neighbourhood are driving out to go to their jobs or coming home from the night shift.

No one is going to question the decision to get a job over a career when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay. But many of these jobs are unlikely to connect our people to the region’s topline economic growth or booming tourist numbers referenced in the Ateed report.

On the other side of the street, at MIT, it’s a different story. Ministry of Education data released last year showed our graduates had the highest employment rate and among the highest median incomes five years after study. That’s not just compared to other polytechs, but when we line up against the country’s universities as well.

For this reason thousands do choose to study with us every year, but the whole sector has experienced a decline in enrolments recently in line with strong employment numbers.
Efforts have been made to make skills training more accessible. If you are of Polynesian descent you can get a trade through the Māori Pasifika Trades Training Initiative and the coalition Government has offered all students a first year fees-free.

But making education low cost or no cost hasn’t fundamentally arrested the trend. We, as providers are looking at ways to increasingly deliver our programmes to those in the workplace so they don’t have to take a pay cut to get ahead.

We also have to listen. For me, every day in this job is an education. I’ve heard big tough guys talk about the scariest thing they’ve ever had to do was walk on to the building site for their first job. I’ve watched bright young men and women who are the first in their families to get a tertiary qualification and how life changing that is.

All of these personal stories and individual decisions have a huge impact on families and our community as a whole.

Ateed has now adopted the purpose of supporting the creation of high value jobs. That’s great. But our sector’s job is to get industry training right so more people can be connected to meaningful employment ensuring everyone has a stake in the prosperity of the region.

Gus Gilmore is chief executive of the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Source: NZ Herald

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