The Minister of Education launched the public consultation on the Government’s proposals for the Reform of Vocational Education in February but providers have only until March 27 to submit their views.

The Government says these proposals aim to create an accessible, affordable, flexible and high quality vocational education system that will provide learners with the training they need in a rapidly changing world.

The consultation is being run jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), and is being led by TEC Chief Executive Tim Fowler.

“I encourage everyone with an interest in education in this country to take part in this consultation. We will be holding regional events throughout the country and look forward to talking about the proposals and listening to your feedback,” said Tim Fowler.

Following consultation, Cabinet will decide on the proposed changes mid-2019, with a view to legislation being introduced later this year.

Business owners and industry leaders, however, are not convinced that the  education reform will reduce skills shortages, and many call it short sighted, indicating it could be devastating to New Zealand industry.

It’s a message that Industry Training Organisation (ITO) Competenz has heard loud and clear from employers in the 36 industries it works with providing apprenticeships and training.

The reform involves merging all 16 polytechs into the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, an organisation that will be responsible for delivering all on-job and off-job training. Industry-owned ITOs like Competenz would no longer exist,  they would no longer arrange training or support and assess apprentices and trainees in the workplace.

The proposal was announced in February and ITOs, polytechs, businesses and other stakeholders have until just 27 March to submit their feedback.

Competenz works with 3,500 New Zealand businesses and has received direct feedback from more than 1,000 people so far through an online survey, industry workshops and individual meetings. CEO Fiona Kingsford says there are common concerns across all sectors.

“The majority of employers we’ve spoken to feel that the current model for apprenticeships and industry training is working well, so why do we need to fix something that isn’t broken?

“Not one of the industries we represent were consulted before this plan came out, and these industries are worried that disrupting the system is a backwards step that could result in further gaps, at a time when skilled staff are needed most. Industry is at the forefront of digitisation, mechanisation and robotisation, and ITOs can react quickly to changes and advances in technology. This reform risks slowing down the speed of response to their needs,” says Mrs Kingsford.

Many of the industries Competenz works with are niche and highly specialised including fire protection, print and butchery. “These industries don’t currently use a polytechnic at all. Where do these essential trades fit the government’s new model?” questions Mrs Kingsford.

Scott Lawson, CEO of the Fire Protection Association of NZ, says the industry was blindsided by the announcement.

“Like many sub-trades, we struggle to attract sufficient levels of technically competent staff. A strong relationship with the ITO best serves our industry and has proven to be the most effective method of delivery.

“The skills shortage is real and major changes without proper due diligence, planning, consultation, industry input, ITO consultation and finally peer review is nothing short of reckless for an industry already in trouble. Clearly the Ministry has no intention of listening to our needs and wants. The six-week consultation period is completely insulting and purely to tick a box saying industry was consulted, but we don’t have time to explore what options would support industry rather than risk it further.”

Pippa Hawkins, General Manager of Retail Meat NZ, says Competenz has supported, developed and grown apprentice numbers over the years to make butchery one of the better performing industries. She is concerned that on-the-job learning may disappear completely.

“We’re a small industry and on-the-job learning is extremely important. We would be devastated to see it return to a classroom-only format and feel there is not enough detail from the government about how this new concept will work. Industry training has already been reviewed multiple times in previous years and the current method is working well.”

Ken Sowman, CEO of Plastics NZ, says businesses are concerned that a radical reform could result in a training hiatus.

“Such a rapid transition to the new structure will result in training effectively ceasing for several years while those new structures are bedded in. The reform will not only result in less industry input into training and therefore less relevance, they will also destroy the industry’s partnership with our ITO, which is only just recovering from reforms five years ago.”

Throughout the consultation students, both domestic and international, can continue to enrol and study in quality-assured programmes across New Zealand. Courses will continue, qualifications will be awarded and recognised, there is no impact from this on fees free study, fees are not going up due to the proposals, and international students’ visa status will not change.

The TEC and the Ministry says it will work with industry, Industry Training Organisations and the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP) sector to design the details of the new system and manage the transition to minimise the impact on learners and staff.

Please see the Reform of Vocational Education page on Kōrero Mātauranga for further information about the consultation including: [email protected] or 0800 462 543 if you have questions or need assistance.

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