Less is more

Martine Udahemuka
Insights Newsletter
29 June, 2018

In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that too much choice can hinder rather than support our decision making.

That the validity of this theory has been challenged is beside the point.

What I do know is that if I were a student right now deciding my next steps after school, I would likely feel more apprehensive than I do when I am confronted with a 100-item menu in a Chinese restaurant.

The path to university is simple to understand and is pursued by a third of school leavers in New Zealand.

But the alternative is laden with many confusing options. It is the one Education Minister Chris Hipkins urged needs to be better understood in his address to the Industry Training Federation’s Skills in a Changing World conference this week.

And it became quickly clear that even the adults in positions to influence and support young people’s decisions are as perplexed.

Tales from several speakers and attendees were telling:

‘If a young person came to me wanting an apprenticeship, I wouldn’t know where to start,’ said one employer.

A current apprentice explained that ‘When I was in school, I never really understood all these options.’

An executive from the Tertiary Education Commission agreed that ‘fragmentation of the careers guidance approach unnecessarily impedes progress.’

And Hon. Paula Bennett spoke of her daughter likely heading for trades who is ‘spoilt for choice, but the poor kid is confused about which pathway to take next.’

Bennett likened current post-school-transition initiatives as a ‘spray and walk away’ and ‘see what sticks’ approach.

But ask a typical Swiss or German student what options they have if they are not immediately heading to university and they will give you one simple, nationally-understood answer: At age 15 they will begin an apprenticeship that formally combines learning at work and learning in a dedicated vocational school.

Meanwhile in our land of plenty of options, roughly forty percent go straight into a low-skilled job or on a benefit, three percent go into an apprenticeship, and one in five at university drop out in their first year.

From the European case, less is indeed more. A student either goes into a 3-year apprenticeship at 15-years-old or stays in school for three years to prepare for university. Roughly sixty percent choose the former. 

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