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Thinking Aloud w/ Emma Anderson, Youth Employability Aotearoa

Last week I had a fascinating chat with Emma Anderson at YEA (Youth Employability Aotearoa), discussing the change they are trying to make in the world and their approach to and need for innovation in the space. In case you missed the chat, Jennifer Susanto has written a summary piece for this (thank you Jen!). 



From Classrooms to Careers: How can Aotearoa facilitate better career opportunities and environments for young people to thrive?

By Jennifer Susanto

What is Youth Employability Aotearoa?

Many young people are anxious about navigating their futures as they don’t understand what opportunities are out there. Youth Employability Aotearoa (YEA) is a systems-change organisation dedicated to transforming the processes and systems that affect young people’s employability. By advocating for policy changes, supporting businesses, and enhancing career guidance in schools, YEA strives to create an environment where young people can thrive and become integral members of the community. Over the past four years, YEA has worked closely with schools, councils, and businesses to address systemic issues preventing young people from successfully transitioning into the workforce.

Emma Anderson, director of YEA is motivated, “to see that young people across the board are supported through school in the world of work.”

Challenges and opportunities with youth employability

Enabling career-focused support systems at high schools

According to YEA, New Zealand high schools lack well-trained career counselors. Often due to a lack of support and funding, many schools either delegate the role of ‘career counsellor’ to core-subject teachers (many of whom lack the time, energy and training to effectively support students) or overwhelm qualified career counsellers (who are assigned as many as 2000 students). This lack of dedicated and qualified career guidance overlooks young people’s needs, depriving them of the advice and support they need to succeed.


In addition to career counseling being understaffed, access to quality support and resources are also not well-known. Resources from the Ministry of Education such as the School Leavers Toolkit are incredibly useful however, they are not widely known or distributed, leaving many teachers and students unaware of valuable resources. As a result, some teachers are left to dedicate more time and energy into making their own resources, which are often less effective.


To better facilitate career support at high schools, Emma says more mandation on career guidance is needed across the whole country. This means increasing more funding and resources for career education and training in all schools, not just the schools in the top deciles. Ensuring consistent and comprehensive career support nationwide would help bridge the gap in employment readiness and provide young people with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate their future.


Creating tertiary curriculums with career-ready soft skills

Most tertiary institutions have curriculums which focus on teaching technical abilities or ‘hard skills’. However, interpersonal qualities or ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, resilience, and initiative are left off the curriculum. This creates a significant gap in students’ preparedness for the real-world challenges they will face when entering the workforce.


Without soft skills young employees may struggle to integrate into teams, communicate effectively and adapt to changing environments. This limits their potential to thrive in a workplace and may impede their ability to apply themselves to their careers and create negative experiences for both employees and employers.


Emma refers to soft skills as ‘power skills’ because of their critical role in effective workplace functioning. To increase young people’s career readiness, she believes that educational institutions need to incorporate more training on power skills, ensuring that students graduate not only with technical knowledge but also with the interpersonal skills necessary to thrive in a successful workforce.


Supporting businesses to work with young people

YEA has observed that many kiwi businesses feel frustrated with their young employees as they struggle to engage and communicate with them. In New Zealand, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are generally lead by “doers,” those who are focused on recruiting people to deliver instant result. As opposed to training and nurturing young employees to succeed, they expect employees to figure things out on their own and are unprepared to invest the necessary time and energy into training them. This can lead to employees feeling overwhelmed and in turn create high turnover rates which are not beneficial to the employer, employee or the business.


Business leaders who provide dedicated training and environments for young people are far more likely to develop capable employees who positively contribute to the business. This means integrating meaningful values, processes and workplaces which support young people’s needs. A reciprocal empathy between young people and their employers is needed to acknowledge each other’s generational and cultural differences and develop ways to work harmoniously. Beyond mastering Gen-Z slang, it is crucial to recognize that ways of working will differ from generation to generation; for instance, younger employees tend to be more text-savvy and may avoid answering phone calls.


Emma recognises that businesses may feel unequipped to nurture new and young employees but believes it is every employer’s responsibility to seek support. Emma states YEA’s role is to bridge this gap between young employees and employers saying, “We want to support businesses on how to work with young people too.” By addressing these needs and fostering a supportive environment, both employers and employees can create environments for the people and business to succeed.


YEA’s role and initiatives

YEA does not directly run programs but represents a network of youth employment programs. Their approach emphasizes collaboration over activism to achieve long-lasting impact.

YEA’s  primary focus is on influencing policy and decision-makers to remove barriers to youth employment, advocating for systemic changes to ensure young people are better prepared for the workforce.


YEA initiatives include:


● Advocacy and Policy Influence: Working with policymakers to enhance support systems for youth employment.

● Supporting Businesses: Helping businesses create hospitable environments and understand the need for positive reinforcement and guidance for young employees.

● Ecosystem collaboration: Partnering with organisations to sign an open letter to the coalition government, advocating for systemic changes.


Emma’s goal is to make roles like hers redundant, envisioning a society where young people feel confident in navigating their own careers saying, “our network that we represent… we don’t want them to exist anymore.”


Currently, YEA is focused on developing a framework for good youth employability practices, aiming to provide comprehensive support to young people transitioning from school to the workforce.



After the interview, viewers had a chance to ask questions…


How has COVID-19 impacted young people?

COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges for young people, particularly in school attendance and increased complexity of needs. Many young people now struggle with basic communication skills and face higher NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) rates. Although YEA are continuing to set up networks and programmes which connect young people with employment opportunities, the rising cost of living and rate of redundancy poses an additional barrier for rangatahi to enter the job market.


Is hybrid working better for older people than young workers?

The impact of hybrid working on young people is still uncertain, with conflicting research on productivity efficiency. Although working from home may be the new normal for many, it should be understood that different people will always have different ways of learning and working. Despite what a young person prefers, they will always appreciate the flexibility to choose and explore the best ways of working for them.

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