A Licence to Work – Bringing Equity to Education – COMET Auckland

COMET Auckland is the Community Education Trust Te Hononga Akoranga, an independent charitable trust and Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) of Auckland City Council, founded with the mission to drive systems change to make education and skills more effective and equitable in Auckland.

The statistics are sobering. Many lower deciles schools have only an 80% pass rate in NCEA Level 1; 12% unemployment for 15–24 year olds; only 85% of 18 year olds have NCEA Level 2.

One of those statistics – 12% unemployment for 15-24 year olds – presents something of a paradox in the face of increasing skill shortages in many areas of the NZ workforce. In 2017, more than 25,000 Aucklanders aged 15-24 were NEETs – Not in Education, Employment or Training. That’s about one in every 10. The Māori rate for NEETs is even higher.

Research has found that students who stay longer at school are more likely to attain NCEA Level 2 or above (96.9 percent by age 18). But the number of Māori students leaving school before the age of 17 is stuck around 30 percent.

Enter COMET Auckland’s Youth Employability Programme: Licence to Work (YEP). Started in 2014, this programme is designed to respond to business and industry concerns that young people may not be developing employability skills – also called ‘soft skills’, needed to succeed in the workplace.

In an EMA survey of 1000 employers in 2015, they rated ‘soft skills’ like workplace fit, communication, teamwork and problem-solving ahead of relevant qualifications as the most important requirements when hiring new employees.

To help address these concerns, COMET Auckland provides training and support for young people to help them gain proficiency in these important soft skills, along with manuals and workbooks for schools, education providers, iwi, youth, community and service groups to deliver YEP to those who need it.

YEP students graduate from the programme with a much wider range of skills, which boosts their employability, and are backed up by evidence from YEP’s assessments and interactive employability learning sessions.

Graduates have also completed at least 20 hours of work in the community with recognised organisations, and have taken part in 80 hours of work experience with local companies. All these accomplishments combine into an expansive portfolio of skills and experience, and they gain a Licence to Work certificate they can use to boost their CVs and impress prospective employers.

The programme was developed in consultation with government, education, employers, and industry groups and are also the core skills in the national Employability Skills Framework.

One deputy principal at an Auckland high school, speaking about YEP, stated “You can’t put an amount of dollars on this programme”. At the recent graduation, staff were reduced to tears when one of 4 students who graduated with their employability passports, spoke to the audience about this being the first time he had ever been on a stage to get a qualification, and the first in his family to ever graduate in anything. A careers advisor at another high school said that students tell her all the time that YEP has changed their lives as it is the most practical learning they have experienced.

In light of this feedback from those working daily in Auckland schools, and from business and industry research, it is clear that COMET Auckland plays a critical role in bringing about social change by helping young people make the journey towards self-sufficiency and equity in society.

Watch more: Employers involved in the Active Tairawhiti Business hub cross-sector initiative talk about why they want to help young people succeed in the workplace.