Since the launch of consultation for the Reform of Vocational Education in February, there has been a lot of talk about the proposed changes and what they will mean for industry, especially for those facing skills shortages. The Reform of Vocational Education Project states its case with a recap of what is actually being proposed and why.
It’s worth stating right at the start that apprenticeships and on-the-job training are not stopping. Regardless of what you may have heard, this is not going to switch to classroom-based learning, and there has never been an intention to do that.
On-the-job learning is an essential part of how we train our workforce. No one would disagree that, for the construction industry, the best way to learn is through mentoring and industry support, not from reading books in a classroom.
Recap of the proposals
The proposed changes are bold. This government has discussed the need to future-proof our economy, and part of this process is to look at the current vocational education system, along with all other stages of education.
Here is a quick recap of what is proposed:
• Introduction of Industry Skills Bodies (ISBs)
ISBs would replace Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) and they would set the standards and qualifications for all vocational education, as well as co-approving the programmes that all providers develop, and advising the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) on investment decisions.
• A new organisation with a regional network of people who have the skills, knowledge and connections to deliver high quality vocational education and training across New Zealand.
Regional Leadership Groups would ensure that key local interests — industry, employers, iwi/Maori — are able to influence the behaviour and offerings of regional campuses.
• Create a single funding system
This would ensure students get the skills, experience and support they need to be successful, providers have the funding they need to be sustainable, and ISBs are able to fulfil their roles.
It would also mean that trainees and students are able to transition between on-the-job and provider-based training more easily.
The rationale for change
There have been questions on how this will be possible in an environment where there are already challenges with skills supply.
It’s also predicted that 40% of today’s jobs will not exist in a few decades due to automation, so we need to look at what jobs and skills will still be needed and, therefore, the training needed to support people through their career paths.
We know these shortages are already affecting the construction sector. The increasing demand for new housing and infrastructure has exposed shortfalls across all skill levels.
The Government and the construction sector are working together so skilled people are available to meet the current and future needs of New Zealand’s construction workforce through the Construction Skills Action Plan.
This aims to drive rapid and sustainable shift to get the right people and skills now, and will be integral to ensuring the industry can keep delivering while changes are being made to the vocational education and training sector.
Finally, according to the Industry Training Federation, only 15% of employers take up industry training through the current system.
This reflects the incomplete industry coverage of the current ITO system, for example, in new and emerging areas in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). But it also presents an opportunity to address this disparity through these proposed changes.
What’s not working so well now
One of the underlying problems of the current system is that it is divided into two — the on-the-job and off-the-job system. This division often leads to the ITO and polytech sectors competing against each other rather than collaborating.
This is not helpful to potential trainees or students as they don’t know how to enter the system or what the best option is for them.
We know that employers are also frustrated with the lack of industry input with off-the-job training, and that ITO programmes do not always have the level of support employers or their employees need.
This can result in learners coming out of education providers with qualifications, but without the skills employers need in the workplace.
And employees and their employers not getting the gains expected through work-based training.
Saying this, it’s worth clarifying that the industry training system as a whole, and certainly within the construction sector, isn’t underperforming, although it has stronger and weaker points.
Back to the beginning
It’s also worth taking a step back in time and understanding the original function of ITOs.
When ITOs were originally created, the main aim was for them to be standard-setting bodies. But because of legislation and policy settings, their ability to genuinely set the standard for industry-based vocational education has been limited.
The changes currently proposed will help Industry Skills Bodies take on the role that was always set out for ITOs to do.
Also, under the current structure, ITOs’ ability to influence and shape provider-based (polytechnic) education has been restricted. What this has meant is that education providers may develop skills misaligned to what industry wants and needs.
How the proposed changes would make a difference
The ISBs would have a strong, consistent oversight of the skills needed, and set standards across the whole system.
They would work with the vocational education providers to provide education for the whole supply chain of workers, both on and off the job, creating an integrated system that is industry-led and that meets the needs of trainees and employers.
This would give employers confidence that vocational education and training is delivering the skills that apprentices need to be workplace-ready.
In the construction industry, this could mean there’s a strategic view taken across nationwide needs and specialist region-specific requirements.
The role played by the ITOs during any transition, whatever that looks like, will be significant.
They are the voice of their industries, and the Reform of Vocational Education project will continue to work with ITOs to ensure that as decisions are being made, they are shaped with industry, employers, workers and trainees at the core.
The Government is currently considering the feedback received from almost 200 meetings and events around the country, and from more than 2000 submissions. High level decisions are expected in mid-2019.