Collaboration: Education and Work

A guest blogpost by Peter Townsend, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce

This discussion about collaboration, collaboration between schools, and employers, and workplaces is not only timely and fascinating, it is also hugely important for the thousands of young New Zealanders – and to the nation’s economic and social future.

Frankly, it’s a discussion that needs to take place in virtually every department, in every school, in every community, and in every city and region. The challenge for education leaders, administrators, development offices, careers advisors, teachers, and those in charge of external or community relationships lies back at home – keeping the ideal of collaboration on colleagues’, communities’, and students’ minds every day.

How schools link to the world of work is a question of enduring interest for business, and increasingly for policy makers.

Work requirements have changed greatly over the last generation and the demands on our workforce are greater than ever.

Innovation and differentiation are now essential for international competitiveness.

Quality control is now embedded in all operations.

Employees must have strong literacy, language and numeracy skills and increasingly need skills of communication, co-operation, computation, computer mastery, creativity and critical thinking.

They need to be able to think across traditional disciplines, make connections and solve problems.

Division of labour is now increasingly in teams, rather than in a hierarchy of command.

The old model of educated managers supervising a less educated workforce is gone.  What’s needed is an education system and learning that caters to this newer world of work.

Employers agree with the Government that we must maximise the potential of all New Zealanders, by ensuring they achieve the skills, knowledge and capabilities needed to succeed – to be useful in positions of real influence and value, in areas of life they are passionate about.

This is about many more of our school students having the knowledge and skills and the capabilities necessary to gain employment, progress their learning, realise their potential and contribute to business, economy, families and the community.

It’s about realising individual potential.

As many of you will know, but I think it’s worth mentioning, the purpose of NCEA L2 is to provide the foundational level skills necessary if students are to be able to access and succeed in further tertiary learning and in employment.

I want to emphasise the “And employment.”

To quote Jim Collins, the leading business thinker and author of ‘Good to Great’:

For in the end, it is difficult to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life.   And it is difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.

That has connotations of life balance, not work / life balance.

So what do employers seek from schooling? We want young New Zealanders to be able to relate well to others, to be motivated and reliable, resilient, enterprising, literate and numerate, informed decision makers, and critical and creative thinkers.

These attributes and capabilities are particularly important when you consider the dynamic futures that await young people.

When young people complete school, they will be entering a world of continual change and where they will encounter a huge range of options.

Young people are less likely to secure a job for life than they are to find – or create – their own jobs repeatedly throughout life.  As a father of four boys I can vouch for that.

Without adequate preparation, this degree of change and choice may be bewildering for tomorrow’s school leavers.

So by the time they reach the final years of secondary school, young people should be in a position to make good, well-informed choices about their futures.

This is not just about allowing young people to make the immediate choices that confront them at the end of school, but also about ensuring young people are equipped to consider their career pathways throughout life.

Put another way, it’s about preparing young people for employability rather than just employment.

It’s about preparing young people for citizenship, where they care about learning and to see the ways they can be proactive in contributing to a better society and economy for everyone.

Capability AND knowledge, skills and competence matter – for further learning, active citizenship, and in the workplace.

To be successful young people of course need foundation and generic levels of knowledge, skills and competence.

Foundation levels of knowledge, skills and competence are necessary but not sufficient to be a performer.

Capability – personal, interpersonal, and cognitive – is more about the responsiveness, creativity, and contingent thinking in relatively uncertain circumstances.

That is knowing when and when not to draw on knowledge and skills, and having the confidence to use and develop knowledge and skills, when faced with problems, opportunities, or complex and changing circumstances.

Examples of personal capabilities employers value include things like:

      • Willingness to learn from errors
      • Calmness under pressure
      • Perseverance
      • Responsibility
      • Wanting to do a good job
      • Being ethical and honest
      • Deferring judgement rather than jumping in
      • Having a sense of humour and perspective.

Examples of interpersonal capabilities includes:

      • Empathy and ability to work with diversity
      • Listening
      • Networking well
      • Being a team player
      • Communicating effectively
      • Understanding organisations
      • Not being intimidated.

Examples of cognitive capabilities include things like:

      • Ability to set priorities
      • Seeing the key point
      • Diagnosing and seeing the likely consequences of alternate courses of action
      • Adjusting plans in response to problems
      • Being an independent thinker
      • Being creative and enterprising.

These capabilities need to be supported by generic skills and knowledge such as:

      • Being able to organise and manage workload
      • Effectively using ICT
      • Effectively self-managing learning
      • Being empowered.

There is alignment between the front end of the NZ Curriculum, the capabilities employers seek and the capabilities that underpin resilience and learning across a life time.

However, and here’s the problem, from an employer’s point of view, the competencies, values and principles that underpin the New Zealand Curriculum don’t always seem to feature very highly in learning.  Too many young people leaving school have yet to acquire the skills, attributes, capabilities, and dispositions that comprise employability and citizenship.

This is evidenced by surveys of employers that show that the education system is not keeping pace with the changing needs of the economy, and employers are increasingly struggling to find skilled workers who can contribute to their companies’ growth and success.

For example, a recent PWC survey revealed that CEOs are more concerned about the impact of a skills shortage on their business than at any point in the last six years.

84% of NZ based CEOs reported that the availability of skills is a threat to their organisation’s growth prospects (up from 80% in 2014).

The availability of skills was reported by CEOs globally as the second biggest concern for business leaders.

A company can’t expand existing production, make the most of new opportunities, or even maintain current output without a supply of skilled workers to draw upon – workers with the right knowledge, skills, competencies and capabilities who are able to apply these in real world situations.

More must be done.

It’s not enough for early childhood leavers to go to school. They must be ready to excel there.

It is not enough for primary school leavers to go to secondary school. They must know they are ready to excel there.

It’s not enough for secondary school age students to go to tertiary or employment. They must know they are ready to excel there.

Through effective collaboration between businesses and schools, we believe there is a wealth of opportunity to support student learning and the development of knowledge, competencies and capabilities useful both in work and life and to support business and local economic growth.

Getting to this point requires reorientation of how we think about the pathways travelled by our children and students and the learning outcomes they achieve, not just in terms of subjects or knowledge areas completed, or in terms of credits gained, but also in respect to their competencies and capabilities.

This demands greater recognition that not all learning occurs in a classroom.

Capabilities that make up employability skills can be acquired in a variety of conexts.

Some of the capabilities I referred to earlier may be best learnt and enhanced through experience in the labour market, while some knowledge and skills may be best developed in partnership with another school, tertiary provider and/or business.

Think about how collaboration in areas like maths, science, or reading could highlight to learners the relevance of these areas in life and work? How might we collaborate to connect today’s curriculum with the real world?

Some learners may require a level of learning provision beyond what any one school or education provider can deliver, particularly when it comes to vocational and technical options for the 70% of school leavers that don’t go on to university.

This means schools must integrate their pathways, programmes and delivery with other schools or providers as part of a collaborative network.

I’m encouraged to learn that schools are looking at ways to better collaborate with a range of tertiary organisations to provide a diversity of learning options and pathways for both domestic and international students.

How do you relate to other educators outside your school?

My challenge to you is to collaborate to create competitive edge when it comes to improved learning outcomes for your students.

I recognise the tension between collaboration and competition is an elephant in the room and I want to share with you an example of collaboration from the private sector.

Collaborate Canterbury is a good example. Local companies unlocking economic opportunities being supported by companies outside of Christchurch to build scale.

Collaboration and your leadership can bring about real change, not just at your schools, but across the country. Collaboration between businesses and schools, within schools, across school and tertiary organisations can enable you to educate in new ways and places.

Peter Townsend (CNZM) is CEO at Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, a not-for-profit organisation that supports local businesses and helps them to grow and evolve by providing advice, consultancy, training, resources and networking opportunities. For more information about CECC visit

This post is part of a keynote speech given to the Independent Schools’ Conference in 2015. This presentation also focused on how schools and businesses could collaborate more effectively together. More information can be downloaded here.

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