Applications for UCOL’s U-Skills Trades Academy hit 1,000 for the first time this year, with new community partnerships providing secondary school students with greater access to vocational education.
U-Skills Academy programmes enable year 11 to 13 students to attend UCOL (or a UCOL-approved site) one day a week to develop industry-relevant skills, while also earning NCEA credits. Launched in 2012, U-Skills has grown into one of the top trade academies in the country, with great support from schools across the regions including Whanganui, Manawatū, Tararua, Horowhenua through to the Wairarapa.
The programmes range from trades to hospitality to business, and introduce students to subjects they can study fulltime at UCOL.
2020 was the first year in which UCOL received over 1,000 U-Skills applications, with 752 of those students accepted. Some applicants were placed onto waitlists because the programmes they applied for were so popular, while others decided to learn at school full-time or enter the workforce.
The New Zealand Police Pathway programme was a popular new offering for 2020, after local police and Palmerston North Boys’ High School approached UCOL about incorporating it into U-Skills.
“The Police Pathway programme had been on our radar, as it’s offered by other trades academies around New Zealand. The local police would normally facilitate it in multiple schools, so by making it part of U-Skills it has become accessible for more students,” says UCOL Schools Partnerships Manager Hayden Robinson.
Students in the programme were taught about interviewing, mental health/crisis support, arrest techniques, the different departments within the police force, and the police recruitment process.
The programme has proven so popular that 50 students have already applied for 2021.
UCOL also formed a new partnership with Manfeild Park Trust to teach the Infrastructure Works programme on-site at Manfeild in Feilding. There, students were able to get hands-on with the tools and machinery used for infrastructure works in the park’s road work simulation area.
UCOL was already teaching the Infrastructure Works in partnership with Downer in Oringi (south of Dannevirke), so the new arrangement with Manfeild meant that two classes could be taught.
The U-Skill Academy has grown considerably since it first launched with 81 students in 2012. Robinson credits that growth to secondary students wanting to see what opportunities are out there and the schools catering to that.
“Students are looking for that out-of-school learning experience and the chance to learn more about vocational pathways. Plus there is the added benefit of them earning NCEA credits.”
The U-Skills Trades Academy will continue to expand in 2021 with the addition of new programmes in Game Development and Plumbing, Gas-Fitting, and Drain-Laying. Students will also be able to complete full Level 3 certificate programmes in Animal Care, Commercial Road Transport, and Conservation.
The Ministry of Education, recognising the success of U-Skills, has increased its number of funded places from 630 to 690 for 2021.