20 Jun 2018

Overseas teachers filling roles NZers don't want

7:53 am on 20 June 2018

Schools are now looking overseas in search for woodwork and metalwork teachers as they struggle to fill vacancies with locally trained candidates.

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Photo: 123RF

Principals say paying more for foreigners to teach the country's children is a stopgap measure at best and the government needs to stump up with more cash to make teaching an attractive career for local tradespeople.

Last year RNZ reported that there were just eight trainees at teaching courses who were able to teach woodwork, metalwork or electronics.

In order to fill the yawning gap, recruitment agents were being used to find teachers overseas who were willing to travel to the other side of the world to take up jobs New Zealanders did not want.

After searching for eight months for a replacement technology teacher, North Canterbury's Rangiora High had finally managed to line up one willing to relocate from the UK.

Principal Karen Stewart did not want to say how much more hiring someone from overseas had cost the school, compared to sourcing somebody locally, but said the difference was significant.

"You know it's something that needs to be addressed in terms of how do we get people trained and in to schools. And that's a nationwide issue to be looked at."

Ms Stewart, who was yet to meet her new teacher face to face, acknowledged there was an element of risk to hiring somebody from overseas.

"The induction they will get when they come to Rangiora High School will need to be quite comprehensive because they are coming in to a different education system, including a very different assessment system."

The Secondary Principals' Association president, Mike Williams, said not being able to eyeball an overseas candidate was a problem and he knew of at least one principal who travelled to the UK every year to interview teachers.

"A candidate can look very strong on paper, the references can be great but the one on one interview gives you a chance to really understand who they are and whether they will fit in to the culture of your school properly."

As the principal of Auckland's Pakuranga College, Mike Williams had recently found himself in the position of having to replace one of his retiring technology teachers.

He said New Zealand trainees were thin on the ground because the money they could make as tradespeople was so much more, meaning he too would have to look overseas.

"We need to be training New Zealanders into teaching New Zealand schools. We need to be finding better pathways to bring [across] people from the workforce who would like to move across into teaching. So we need to find attractive viable pathways for them to change careers. But unfortunately those things aren't happening."

The Ministry of Education was now working with two recruitment agencies to provide subsidised help for schools struggling to hire technology teachers.

In the past six months they had sourced 15 teachers from offshore.

The managing director of one of those agencies, Stu Birch, said there was a global shortage of technology teachers but New Zealand did offer a better lifestyle than many countries and was often a good fit for overseas teachers.

"These teachers are travelling across the world to teach in a different school, they've put a lot of effort in to get here and they tend, when they get here, to be very, very good. I guess you could say 12,000 miles is a very good filter. To make the journey you have to have your act together."

However nobody spoken to saw the hiring of overseas teachers as a long term solution to the shortage of local candidates.

Mike Williams said the only way to encourage tradespeople in to teaching as a career was for the government to lift wages for teachers and to do so right now before schools were forced to stop offering technology altogether.