TEC research into school leaver decision-making provides industry opportunity

29 Aug 2022


The Tertiary Education Commission, Te Amorangi Mātauranga Matua (TEC), has put out a foundation piece of research about transitioning secondary students that presents a deeper understanding of how school leavers decide their next steps. 

 The research process

60,000 students leave school each year. TEC surveyed 500 school leavers, and had in-depth interviews with 56 across the country, to understand the ‘why’ behind the pathways they take next.

 The findings

The research shows that a growing proportion of school leavers are Māori, Pacific or ethnic minorities; 15% of school leavers have a disability and 9% are neurodivergent; 82% of leavers have work or caring responsibilities outside of school. These figures indicate the growing diversity coming through into our workforce. The results also show that 40% of school leavers achieve University Entrance (UE), but 1 in 5 only achieve NCEA Level 1 or less. The majority go on to tertiary study, with 36% of those entering foundation levels (1-3) and 29% of school leavers go straight into the workforce. 

TEC found that there are four types of knowledge needed for an informed decision:

  • Orienting (what a learner values, their guiding decision)
  • Focused (what pathways might suit them)
  • Deep (what those options are ‘really like’)
  • Logistical (practical steps to make it happen)

Factors that prompt students to pivot from a dream to other careers include perceived barriers to entry, job stability and demand. Five key barriers limit their opportunities, especially for learners in under-served groups (Māori, Pacific, women, neurodivergent and disabled learners): 

  • The cost of study
  • Lack of connections with their desired pathway
  • Lack of capacity to engage with career decision-making
  • The impacts of COVID-19
  • Systemic biases including streaming.

When students leave school, it is usually the first complex decision they have had to make in their lives. Going out into the world, with nothing to fall back on, increases the uncertainty of making the right decision. Learners are craving an environment where there is room to experiment with a variety of options. 

 Opportunities for plant producer employers

Our industry has to undertake a concerted effort to attract the 29% straight into our workforce, as well as ensuring we have appropriate tertiary level study for the other majority. We can do this by:

  1. Ensuring that we have working conditions, work culture, and jobs that cater for learners in these under-served groups, as many say that they are planning to pursue trades and community occupations. 
  2. Showcasing what our industry has to offer, talking to students about the opportunities, and modelling real life workers who have first-hand experience of a plant production career pathway. We need to demonstrate the passion, beauty, community, and pride plant producers have in what they do.
  3. Supporting our learners at all levels, as without these learners, our future workforce will only continue to be harder to find. 

Creating consistent messaging for the industry is a crucial next step in attraction across Aotearoa, New Zealand. Here at NZPPI we are promoting Plant Careers across several different platforms and initiatives such as Secondary School Education Programs, school and careers expos, field days, TEC programs, Muka Tangata, Go Gardening, Lincoln University, Opportunity Grows Here, Social Media, and more.

Our industry has the support of many initiatives, so it is now up to us to get behind these and showcase our industry in a light that we see fit.




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