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No. 54 (March 1966)
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Country Children Facing the Future

How many school-leavers begin their working life each year? I really don't know. The exact figure isn't important anyway. We all know that Industry has the huge task of assimilating tens of thousands of new workers every December. They pour out of schools all over the country, some keen and ambitious, others shy and nervous, others again dull and lacking drive, and a few, truculent and unprepared for life. Fortunately the jobs are there, but just think of the enormous problem of sorting out all the different types into suitable jobs to the satisfaction of the employer, though not always to the satisfaction of the employed. It may be a purely hit-or-miss, trial-and-error process, but it need not be so.

School Careers Advisers

There are professional services available to all school-leavers, and not one adolescent need start his or her working life without first talking over plans and getting the best of advice. Attention has recently been drawn in ‘Te Ao Hou’ to the work of vocational guidance officers, and these people are of course the real experts, carefully selected and trained for their highly specialised work.

However country folk are at a disadvantage in utilising this professional service because they must wait for these officers to visit their districts, and then, because of the crowded timetable, they may miss out on an interview. Many of the pupils at our college are turned away at each visit of the vocational guidance officer, simply because there is not time enough to see them all. Of course there is a list of priorities, so that the more urgent cases are seen first. This would be a very serious state of affairs were it not for the fact that this school, like most large secondary schools in New Zealand, has a careers adviser on the staff who sees to it that pupils are taking the right courses, looks after their day-to-day problems, supplies them with careers information, and generally prepares pupils before they meet the vocational guidance officers.

Many parents and pupils are unaware of the existence of careers advisers so I thought I would write about my own work as a careers adviser in a remote country college with a large Maori roll, to bring this service to the attention of readers of ‘Te Ao Hou’. I shall be discussing mainly country experiences and country problems but I hope other readers may find something of interest also.

Migration Must be a Planned One

From the point of view of choosing and pursuing a worthwhile career, the country pupil is at a great disadvantage. Perhaps the most obvious handicap, and one of the most serious, is the need in most cases to leave the district and go to the city to find suitable employment. All country school-leavers have some sort of a qualification, perhaps two or three years' secondary schooling, or maybe School Certificate or better, but unless their qualifications are used purposefully these young people tend to drift—drift to town, and drift from job to job, becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none, and wasting their talents and qualifications. One of the great challenges facing country schools is the need to change this drift into a planned migration.

Harder to Visualize Careers

It is an unfortunate irony that these young people who most need the goal of a worthwhile career are the most severely handicapped when it comes to choosing a suitable occupation. Unlike city children who see industry all around them, they have nothing to stimulate them into thinking of their future work. One of my biggest jobs is to somehow make all our pupils think about their future careers, so that by the time they are interviewed by a vocational guidance officer, they have given the matter plenty of thought. This makes it much easier and quicker for the vocational guidance officers, but of greater importance is the fact that these adolescents have given careful consideration to their final choice.

I have a notice-board on which I display a wide variety of posters giving information on different types of occupations. The library has

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a good stock of brochures and pamphlets, and I also use films and film-strips. All this is just the spade-work of careers advising, yet despite it all, there is still a too large proportion of pupils who do not think carefully enough. One indication of this is the fairly narrow range of occupations most seem to prefer. Panel-beating, motor mechanics and the army are the most popular boys' preferences, and the girls stick mainly to teaching, nursing and telephone operating. I fear these choices are arrived at not so much by serious thought, as by knowing others who have taken up these jobs already. Of course if they are happy in their choice of occupation, why should I worry? I shouldn't I suppose, but I sometimes do have the nagging doubt that the girl who is now a telephone operator would have made an excellent dental nurse or kindergarten teacher or shorthand typist, or that the panel-beater could have been a successful draughtsman or professional engineer or officer cadet.

More Difficult to Decide

Then too, there is the opposite case of pupils ill-advisedly taking up a career for which they are not fitted, and failing to succeed. It is often too late to start on a more suitable alternative, and so a career is wasted.

Another problem for the country pupil is the lack of first-hand experience of a sufficiently wide range of occupations. City pupils see these jobs around them every day, and they know a lot more about different jobs than country pupils do. The latter frequently have no way of deciding whether or not they would like a particular job. Sometimes I suggest office machining to a girl seeking advice, and then I have to explain as best I can what an office machinist does; but because the girl has never seen an office machinist at work and cannot visualise what it would be like, she discards the suggestion. On one occasion I tried to interest a hefty young fellow in the pattern-making trade in a foundry. I had a job ready for him if he wanted it. He had never heard of a foundry and was quite unimpressed with my description of the pattern-makers' work. He couldn't visualise the work, so he turned it down. He is now working on the chain in a freezing works.

Chance to See For Themselves

In an attempt to give our pupils a chance to see real career situations for themselves, this school organised a week-long careers trip to Wellington last August for the fifth and sixth forms. The pupils, in several small groups, inspected many different types of occupations. They kept a record of everything they saw, and later wrote reports. The trip was expensive—after local fund-raising had been added to school and Maori Affairs Department subsidies, the pupils still had to find £12 each—but it was a most valuable experience for these young people. They were able to assess several different types of careers which they had been considering, and they also got a good insight into the working life of a city.

Working Out the Likely Possibilties

It is hard to imagine just how unrealistic some pupils can be in selecting careers. I once asked a lower fifth form class to write an essay on the topic of their future careers. One yonug hopeful declared that he was going to be a naval captain. His uncle in the navy would help him to become a captain. Another lad had a well-worked-out scheme. He was going to join a stock firm; after 10 years, when he had become a manager, he was going to leave the firm and join the opposition with all the old firm's secrets! It is hard to remember sometimes that it is secondary school pupils that one is dealing with.

So the first task of the careers adviser is to ensure that pupils are thinking about careers, and also to provide them with information on different types of employment. I expect our pupils to be thinking along these lines in their first year at college. Maturing teenagers will inevitably change their minds many times, but by the time they are in the fifth and sixth forms the likely possibilities should be emerging. I think this is probably the best time to see the vocational guidance officer.

Help in Choosing Courses

The careers adviser is also responsible for seeing that pupils have enrolled in the right courses. In large secondary schools the arrangement of courses is usually quite complicated, and it is often advisable to see the careers adviser when a pupil is about to be enrolled. The variety of courses is meant to meet the special needs of different pupils. Some courses are not geared to school certificate, and it is as well to remember that many school certificate subjects cannot be taken for university entrance.

Once they are enrolled, the careers adviser watches pupils' progress to see if course and class adjustments are necessary before it is too late; he speaks to classes on job opportunities,

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and he tries to interview as many pupils as possible. In this way he is able to sort out problem cases for referring to vocational guidance officers when they visit the school. The careers adviser is not a rival of vocational guidance officers, but rather works in partnership with them.

Assistance for School Leavers

I mentioned earlier that the major problem facing country school-leavers was having to leave home and seek employment in the city. The policy of our college is not merely to help pupils decide on a worthwhile career, but also to place them in jobs and to find accommodation for them. It would be impossible for a careers adviser living hundreds of miles away from the nearest large city to see that school-leavers are placed in satisfactory employment and accommodation. It is only by working as a team together with vocational guidance officers and other agencies that this can be done successfully.

When Should They Leave?

The question as to when a pupil should leave school bothers some parents. More and more parents are keeping their children longer at school, often at considerable sacrifice, so that they will have the chance to sit for school certificate. This is a very commendable trend, although parents should not be misled into believing that a school certificate pass is more or less automatic for those who stay long enough. Actually only one third of all school-leavers in New Zealand have school certificate or a better qualification when they leave school. Sometimes pupils are kept on far too long in the vain hope that they will get their school certificate.

Where there is doubt, the best people to see are the school principal and the careers adviser. Generally, where a pupil is making progress and benefiting from his schooling, he should stay on. But other things, such as the age of the pupil, may have to be considered. This is particularly important in the case of boys wanting to enter apprenticeships. Would a further year at school offset the disadvantage of starting an apprenticeship a year later? This is the sort of problem faced by some parents. Teachers know the progress of the pupils, and the careers adviser, or the vocational guidance officer if one is available, knows the conditions attaching to various occupations. It is not an easy problem, and many factors have to be considered; but parents should not hesitate to seek advice. I believe that all teachers have had experience of time-wasters whose time at school is doing them no earthly good, and who may as well be out learning a trade and earning their keep.

What I have said in this article is the result of my own experience. Careers advisers in other schools may have different problems and other ideas, but all careers advisers are there to help pupils make the most of their educational and occupational opportunities. I would urge all parents with teenagers at secondary school to consult the careers adviser on any problem touching this aspect of their children's lives.