Lifting and shifting: Careers NZ moves in with the TECSeptember 2017
The recent ‘lift and shift’ of Careers NZ to the Tertiary Education Commision has generated ripples throughout the education sector. Jaylan Boyle spoke to two high school careers teachers to gauge the mood on education street.
In early July, Minister of Education Nikki Kaye announced that Careers NZ, New Zealand’s most utilised careers education resource for school communities, careers advisors, and employers, was to be “lifted and shifted” into the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) as an upshot of the recently passed Education Act Amendment Bill.
A press statement released at the time manages to both comfort and worry those affected, in the same paragraph:
“In the first instance this is a ‘lift and shift’ of staff and functions from Careers New Zealand to the Tertiary Education Commission. The legislation gives the Tertiary Education Commission six months to realign the way the organisation works to deliver the new careers functions. During this time there will be no external change to service for either organisation.”
Rationalisation for the move came from Associate Tertiary Minister Louise Upston, who plays a familiar centre-right tune: well-worn phrases like ‘consolidation’ and ‘elimination of duplication’ were prominent – this is normally, of course, the language of cutbacks, particularly when emanating from Ministerial communications departments.
“The TEC will be a one-stop-shop that consolidates careers information in one place, reducing fragmentation and duplication across government agencies and making pathways for young people into further study and work clearer,” said Ms Upston.
“By expanding TEC’s functions we will improve the career system by strengthening connections between education and employment, making it easier for learners and job-seekers to navigate their pathway choices by accessing high-quality and relevant information and services.
“There will be better and more consistent careers advice and information, as well as a new and improved suite of online tools, making it easier to use this information.
“This will enable people of all ages to make better-informed, timelier decisions about their learning and career pathways. Employers will benefit from stronger connections with schools and tertiary providers, enabling them to more directly influence the skills pipeline.”
On the street
The mood on education street, so to speak, appears to be one of ‘we’ll have to wait and see’ – at least according to the school careers personnel Education Review spoke to.
Jacqui Birkhead is director of careers at Auckland’s Avondale College. She says that Careers NZ services have, in fact, been contracting for some time.
“I think we’re kind of waiting to see at this stage. Careers NZ has become smaller over recent times; what they actually offer schools has become smaller. At one stage they were coming in and doing lots of work with priority learners, and then they pulled back on that.”
Jacqui isn’t sure whether such a contraction of services means the Government has been preparing for the merger with the TEC for some time. She is, however, very sure of the esteem in which Careers NZ is held by people in her field around the country, and by those who benefit from it.
“Careers NZ has always been a wonderful resource for schools. So it would really be a shame if it were to decrease or even vanish. Perhaps being placed within the TEC will give it more strength though, who knows?”
Jacqui is concerned that the metrics used by the TEC to remodel Careers NZ, whatever its future form, may ignore the nuanced reality of careers education. Like so many aspects of education, there is the danger that a narrow focus on easily measured outcomes could mean that kids fall through the resulting cracks, or that school staff are negatively incentivised to pursue only certain outcomes.
“It’s hard to measure lots of aspects of careers work, isn’t it? You might just be a small cog in a bigger journey, but a really important cog. Sometimes you can’t just measure success on outcomes. If somebody goes to a workshop [provided by an organisation like Careers NZ], how do you measure the outcome? Sometimes it’s about sowing the seeds,” she says.
“While our work is based largely on outcomes, you don’t always see those results immediately or directly. Somebody’s increased confidence, for example, is hard to measure, isn’t it?”
Education Review asked Jacqui which Careers NZ services she sees as crucial to the work she does.
“They currently offer professional development workshops for careers staff, which are really useful. Their website is, of course, fantastic: it’s New Zealand’s best online careers resource, we use it a lot with students. It’s a wonderful New Zealand-relevant resource.
“They have been moving more towards the online advice chat model through the website. I don’t know if many of our students actually engage with that. But I think face-to-face interaction with Careers NZ is just so valuable.”
Jacqui says she finds it strange that there is lots of political lip service paid to strengthening pathways for young people to get into gainful employment or training, when what actually happens could be read as a cost-cutting exercise – as that’s often the underlying point of mergers.
“All these politicians seem to have this focus on getting young people into work, and so you sort of think that there’d be more money put into these kind of services. Rather than try and reinvent the wheel, and change a really well-respected and widely used service. I mean, parents, students and everybody else all know about Careers NZ – I hope that if they do [change Careers NZ], we’re not going to lose some of the expertise in the staff that are there, and lose some of those community connections.”
Jacqui says that as far she is aware careers staff haven’t been directly approached by the Government either for their thoughts on potential changes to Careers NZ or to give any more detail on the merger than is available publicly.
From under the umbrella
Education Review approached the TEC for comment on its absorption of Careers NZ. We asked direct questions, but unsurprisingly (given the proximity of the election and the delicate phase of the transition), we weren’t given many direct answers. When asked whether cost-cutting forms part of the motivation behind the merger, chief executive Tim Fowler didn’t refute the idea in his return email, but reiterated the line put forth by his colleagues in government, saying: “The intention behind changes in the career system is to reduce fragmentation in the system and improve lines of accountability to improve outcomes for learners and job seekers.”
Janet* is a careers advisor at a South Island secondary school. She says that there is a lot of concern in her profession that a Careers NZ that emerges from under the TEC umbrella will be a significantly reduced service.
“I recently went to a PLD day that was run by Careers NZ, and it was just such a supportive, collegial, informative and productive day, and to think that those services could be going, I just feel that would be to the detriment of our students, staff, and schools.”
Janet was speaking recently with someone who works at Careers NZ, in a relatively senior role. Janet says she was told that there are many there who feel like they are in a state of limbo. They’re told again and again to expect an announcement as to whether Careers NZ staff will be retained at the TEC beyond the six-month moratorium phase, an announcement that is always deferred for one reason or another. This, Janet was told, has been going on for 18 months.
Janet agrees with Jacqui in her perception that Careers NZ has been contracting significantly well before the merger announcement was made.
“Up until this year, there used to be a minimum of two days training for new careers advisors. That’s now gone. As a new careers advisor, there was nothing in the way of training for me, starting as I did after the beginning of the year.”
Janet also reiterates Jacqui’s admiration for the suite of tools that are accessible through Careers NZ.
“I use the Careers NZ website every day. There are amazing, interactive resources on that website. There are lots of tools that students use all the time, like tutorials on how to write their CV or cover letter, for example.
“I’m sure that if there was a survey done on the Careers NZ website resources, especially the Career Quest tool, you’d find that it is used by every school in the country, every day. To think that it might be going, that would be just criminal I think.”
*Not her real name