Over a quarter of the working-age people in the Nelson region do not have any school qualifications.
But education experts expect the figure to drop, with schemes to keep students in school longer and increased access to further education.
The Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency's most recent six-monthly report said 52 per cent of the working-age population in the region had a post-school qualification, 21 per cent had a school qualification, and 27 per cent had no qualifications.
The proportions were broadly the same as they were five and 10 years ago.
However, Ministry of Education figures show that the trend may be changing.
The numbers of Nelson students reaching NCEA Level 2, regarded as a minimum qualification for further education and training, have been slightly ahead of the national average in recent years.
The Government has set a target of at least 85 per cent of 18-year-olds obtaining at least NCEA level 2 by 2017.
In 2011, 76.7 per cent of 18-year-old students from the Nelson region gained NCEA level 2 or above. In 2012, the figure was 80 per cent. Both beat the national average, of 74.3 per cent in 2011 and 77.2 per cent in 2012.
Top of the South Trades Academy manager Shaaron Adams said the academy, which gives students a taste of tertiary study while they are at school, could help to increase the region's school achievement numbers in the future.
The academy was launched in March 2012 with about 100 students. It has over 300 students enrolled this year.
The academy is a partnership between the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), secondary schools across the top of the south and Whenua Iti Outdoors. It is funded by the Ministry of Education.
Students accepted into the academy complete NCEA at school while working towards a national certificate in a trade. They train one day a week at NMIT's campuses, Whenua Iti or selected schools.
Adams said the academy gave students a "kick start" so that when they left school, they would be on their way to further study.
"It has already instilled in them an understanding of the transition or pathway from school to work or training. I think a lot of them in the past might not have realised they were capable or had that opportunity or privilege of doing it while at school."
Waimea College principal Larry Ching said the number of unqualified workers in the region was "not good enough", though he also expected it to decrease, thanks to recent initiatives like the trades academy.
"I think there is work to be done. I think we are in the process of making some good progress."
He said showing students different vocational options and how to take advantage of them was going to improve education levels.
The school is also taking part in the Youth Guarantee scheme, which works to identify students at risk of failing NCEA level 1 or 2.
Ching said the programme worked to give these students a "nudge" and extra support when they needed it, as well as making their families aware that they needed to work harder.
So far, the programme had been "very successful", he said.
Ching said New Zealand had put a lot of emphasis on encouraging students to go to university.
"That's not a bad thing, but we don't need a whole lot of unemployed graduates in the workforce. Now there is a shortage in skilled trades areas."
Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle said that while the chamber encouraged people to become as qualified as possible, school and post-school qualifications were not "the be-all and end-all" when it came to finding work in the region.
"Most important from an employer's point of view is ensuring the potential employee has the right fit for the culture and attitude to work."
She said the qualifications required depended on the job. If it was technical or specific, there was likely to be a base requirement.
Kettle said employers were often looking for "learning agility", so employees could find meaning from experiences, and could keep pace with any changes required.
For the 27 per cent of the region's working-age population with no qualifications, Kettle said employers would be looking to see what else they could bring to the table, such as leadership or being a team player.
NMIT director of service industries and learning innovation Chris Hubbard said the Nelson region had a high percentage of labouring jobs, including seasonal workers, which could influence the numbers in the report.
"Many of those employed in these types of areas are highly skilled but have never needed to gain a formal qualification."
Hubbard said the proportion of unqualified workers needed to change, as the world was quickly becoming a knowledge-based economy.
"As traditional labour-intensive roles are being slowly replaced by technological solutions, people will need to upskill in order to find new employment and career opportunities."
He said the unchanged numbers of unqualified workers in recent years also reflected employment and career choices, with many Nelsonians gaining higher qualifications but leaving the area for employment or to take up career opportunities.
The size of the local job market also had an effect on keeping graduates in the region, he said.
- The Nelson Mail
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