Expecting flight attendants to become dairy workers is unfair

An Auckland academic and innovation advisor at Tech Futures Lab Richard Rowley is not surprised that former Air New Zealand flight attendants don’t want to become dairy hands or social workers, describing such change as too confrontational, not to mention unfair.

“The slow start to fill 1000 vacant dairy farm jobs, and the fact that employers in several sectors are struggling to fill vacancies isn’t because everybody’s happy to be on welfare,” says Rowley. “It comes down to the fact that what we do is tied to who we are, and for some, the leap of faith is just too great.

“Our education system has largely not produced by adaptable people. The people who struggled at school will be the same people who are challenged by changing careers because it was drummed into them that they are not good learners.”

Rowley says that when it comes to shifting career, self-esteem and confidence play a huge part. As a result, most people will see only obstacles, including age, experience, and physical ability.

“Can a flight attendant in their 40s picture him or herself in a muddy paddock at five o'clock in the morning, in the rain? They – and others like them in the tourist sector – would know they’re starting at the bottom, and many will find it difficult to match their current skills to some of the new careers proposed.

“It is unrealistic and unfair, particularly when you consider that the Government’s emphasis is now on outdoor, hard labour type jobs in conservation and agriculture.”

Rowley compares current Covid-19 conditions to growing up in a mining village in the UK in the mid-1980s when major industrial action shut down the coal industry.

“Thousands lost their jobs and, with that, their self-esteem. Some of them never worked again.

“I think we need to brace for a raft of mental health and addiction issues coming down the line. Our identity and our value are attached to our job, and when that is stripped away, people can’t love themselves anymore.”

Rowley advises people who are thinking they may be forced into a career change to prioritise attitude and their ability and willingness to learn over experience or hard skills.

“Get yourself belief and confidence back. This is critical,” says Rowley. “The brain is designed to adjust and adapt.

“Take heart from the fact that overwhelming research proves there is no link between academic success and career success. Passion, interest and a willingness to learn are all you need to pivot.”

Rowley says some people will manage to re-skill, but many will not.

“These are very challenging times and it is not nearly as simple as saying, ‘oh well, I’ll go be a farmer’. There will be many people out there who believed that they had found their career for life, and now they have just had the rug pulled out from under them.

“Our focus has to be people, people, people before we get to the jobs. Help people cope, change and re-skill and jobs will take care of themselves.”


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Tech Futures Lab is an education facility of The Mind Lab, a NZQA registered Tertiary Education Organisation under the provisions of the Education Act 1989. Candidates who are studying on a programme delivered by Tech Futures Lab are enrolled with The Mind Lab.

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