ITO review — theory does not equal practice in construction

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As many of you may be aware the Government is undertaking a review of the Industry Training Organisation space.
It is looking to rationalise the number of them from in excess of 35 to around 10-ish. It wants to improve the performance of its investment in industry training, and recently published a consultation document on the matter.

The Registered Master Builders Federation established the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) in the early 1990s, and the construction sector has been well served by it ever since.
The BCITO is one of the ITO success stories and is, and has been, exceedingly well governed and run for many years.
It has a close relationship with the sector it serves and is active in the industry. It has exceptional completion rates, and produces apprentices to the calibre we require.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for all the ITOs. Thus, the Government is looking to improve performance, and is force merging as part of its rationalisation agenda.
While we agree with improving the wider ITO performance, we do not want to see the baby thrown out with the bathwater and the BCITO’s capability affected because of what other ITOs are, or are not doing.

We do not want to be penalised or to go backwards while these restructurings occur. While we agree change is needed, we are, indeed, selfish and protective in that regard when it comes to construction because, actually, we are one of the beneficiaries of the ITO system.
The recently-published discussion paper identified 11 proposals to improve ITO and apprentice/trainee performance.

It discusses who arranges training and skill setting for industry, greater clarity of ITO functions, higher completion rates, industry responsibility, the Modern Apprenticeship regime, raising the restriction on training levels 5 and 6, funding and subsidies, removing disincentives for trainees to progress to employment, reviewing quality assurance mechanisms and reviewing unit standards.

Cause for concern
It’s all pretty good and sensible stuff, and we are in broad agreement with much of what is proposed. However, there are some aspects that are potentially alarming and cause for concern — Proposals 10 and 11 in particular.

Proposal 10 talks about “the lead qualification developers managing the process for assuring the consistency of graduate outcomes”.
It says a mechanism is needed to provide assurance that the outcomes achieved by graduates awarded a New Zealand qualification meet the graduate profile and are comparable, regardless of the programme undertaken. It is hoped this will give confidence to learners, employers and industry in the qualification and the programmes leading to it.
Ok, that seems sensible. But the moderation process that that would introduce is looking to “apply external moderation only to standards relating to skills critical to an occupation”.

Practical application ignored
That seems to us to concentrate on the theory side of learning and ignore the practical application of that learning.
This view is reinforced with Proposal 11 which, among other things, is about undertaking a review of unit standards (to avoid duplication and their proliferation), but states that “Government expects industry skill standards to be more clearly focused on learning outcomes”.

If that is so, and our impression is correct, then this review is contemplating having, say, a New Zealand Qualification in Carpentry awarded with no practical element necessary — ie, a “classroom carpenter”.
While we agree a balanced approach is required, and such learning has its place, the idea of awarding a qualification without any assessment of the individual’s ability to apply those learnings will not work in construction.

Theory first and practical later is quite common in professions where an individual attends university, completes a Bachelor of something, gets a job and then has to work for a set period in order to become registered as being competent within the profession.
We do not want to replicate such a system. Our entire industry is predicated on “graduates”, once qualified, being capable of working unsupervised to a high quality of workmanship and completing that work within a reasonable time period with minimal wastage.

That is our industry’s “graduate profile”, and one the entire Licensed Builder Practitioner scheme is based on.
Having a two-stage approach will not increase productivity or provide the confidence to learners, employers and industry in the qualification.