Careers Expo – The Good, the Bad, and the Funny

By Michael Edmonds 16/05/2012

I’ve just spent the last three days at our stand (Christhchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology)at the Canterbury Careers Expo. It has been an interesting experience which I have been reflecting on since it finished yesterday afternoon.

The Good

I talked to alot of Year 12 students who are using the Careers Expo to find out what subjects they need for Year 13, plus a few Year 11’s and even some Year 10’s. I commend them and their schools for thinking ahead.

Also many of the students I spoke to who were interested in science are doing at least two, if not all three of the sciences. Excellent for keeping their options open. And most were also keeping up with their maths and English – also good to hear.

The Bad

However, there were also students wandering around with blank looks on their faces who seemed to have no idea what they were going to do. Speaking to them, most hadn’t even starting narrowing down the options by thinking about what jobs they wouldn’t want to do. Now I know that not everyone coming out of school has a specific career in mind but with the government’s tightening up on student loans and allowances, they should at least be narrowing down their choices in order to make sure the subjects they are studying are opening up the right opportunities for them in the future.

Also, I get frustrated with the attitude of some parents/teachers/students regarding polytechnics. Not all students are suited to university study – our teaching is very much suited to students who are practically orientated and who will succeed in our smaller classes, instead of being overwhelmed by classes at large universities.

The Funny

Being asked if our institution taught astrology. However after asking a couple of questions I discovered the young man meant astronomy, so I sent him off to talk to the University of Canterbury.

Reflections on Career Expos

I think Careers Expos are a good opportunity to see how students are (or are not) thinking about their future careers. I enjoyed talking to students with a variety of interests. For those who have interests that would be satisfied by our courses, it it great telling them about our programmes. For those who have different interests, it is great to be able to draw on my wider experience and tell them about other options (I hope my boss or the marketing department don’t read this). I had several students tell me they really enjoyed chemistry so it was great telling them about programmes such as chemical engineering at the University of Canterbury, Chemical technology at Massey, Nanotechnology at Victoria and medicianl chemistry in Auckland (at this point they started to glaze over so I stopped). I hope other institutions apply a similar philosophy if they have students who a better suited to our programmes (practically focused, better in small classes etc).

I also reflected on some of what I see as problems in the tertiary sector. The thousands of students who do first year Health Science at Otago University in order to get into the several hundred positions in medicine, pharmacy, optometry training. What happens to those who miss out? I know many of them tend to stay in Dunedin, but are they best served doing this?

Similarly for those who go through the first year at University of Canterbury with the intention of doing engineering. What do they do next? Christchurch Polytechnic has an engineering programme which, with its hands on approach might allow such students to still pursue a career in engineering. Do students who fail to get into their preferred option after the first year at university know what all the other options really are?

It seems to me that with the government’s tightening up on student loans and allowances that student interests would be better served by:

1) Better career advice at schools

2) Unbiased career advice after the first year at university

3) Tertiary institutions working more closely together to align their programmes and to produce complementary programmes.