A vocational education system fit for the future

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Tertiary Education Commission Deputy Chief Executive, Delivery Directorate, Gillian Dudgeon.

Meeting a large skills shortage is no mean feat, but in challenge lies opportunity. Enter the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) — the biggest change to vocational education in 25 years. Defined as ‘training for a career or trade,’ vocational education is pivotal to New Zealand’s future. Gillian Dudgeon, Tertiary Education Commission Deputy Chief Executive, Delivery Directorate, explains.

New Zealand’s construction industry incorporates many major sectors, is a key economic driver and employs 250,000 people.

The transformative opportunities on the horizon — automation, 3D modelling and digital simulation — mean we are going to see significant, dynamic changes that will push the envelope and create smarter and more sustainable solutions across the board.

With a shortfall of 80,000 new construction workers expected over the next five years, we need fundamental change to ensure we not only have sufficient resource, but also empowered employees with the right skills who can adjust to new ways of working.

When we talk about the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), we start with a clear intent: to create a strong, unified and sustainable vocational education system that is fit for the future of work, and that delivers the skills that learners, employers and communities need to thrive.

The Reform aims to ensure that employers have greater influence so that learning includes the skills needed in the workplace, more support is given to employers and learners, pathways are easier, and there is a focus on collaboration between all parties.

After a period of extensive consultation and engagement, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced the planned Reform of Vocational Education changes on August 26, 2019.  

So what does the Reform actually involve? First, legislation updates are needed to support the changes, and these are expected to take effect on April 1, 2020.

The key changes include:

• Workforce Development Councils (WDCs): Four to seven industry-governed bodies called WDCs will be the voice of industry. WDCs will have a skills leadership role working with industry and providers to ensure the right type of qualifications and programmes are in place.

They will develop a skills leadership plan to communicate the skills needs of your workforce and types of training needed so funding can be directed to the right places.

• The New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology:

A single, unified national institute of skills and technology (“Institute”) will be established, initially bringing together the existing 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics and then building the capability to support work-based learning.

One of the benefits will be an integrated network of delivery options across all of New Zealand, with regions able to share resources and support each other.

• Support to shift from ITOs:

Over the next two to three years, support for apprenticeships and on-the-job training will shift from Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) to providers — ie, the new Institute, wananga or private training establishments.

• Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs): It’s an exciting time for the construction industry as a Construction CoVE was one of the two pilots announced.

Made up of industry experts and based at a site of the Institute, CoVEs will be a catalyst for championing an issue or opportunity related to vocational education.

There is $2.5 million of funding available per year, for up to five years, for each of the first two pilot CoVEs. While funding is for a defined period, it’s expected CoVEs will be an enduring part of the vocational education system.

Read about the process to form a CoVE at www.tec.govt.nz/RoVE.

• Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs): The RSLGs will work across education, immigration and welfare systems to help deliver regional economic development strategies that work for everyone.

All regions will develop regional skills plans and feed into the Tertiary Education Commission, WDCs and providers.

• Te Taumata Aronui:

This group will provide an opportunity for Maori and the Crown to work more closely on the changes to the tertiary education system, and help develop tertiary education, including the Reform, from Maori community and employer perspectives.

• Unified Funding System:

A new unified approach to funding vocational education is being developed.

New Zealand has agreed that we can create a better vocational education system. Ultimately, it was always going to take an ambitious programme of work to overcome the challenges we face.

Certainly, there is a lot to digest with the Reform, but our focus is on ensuring there is a gradual, carefully-managed transition to the new vocational education system supported by robust discussion, collaboration and innovation.

Most importantly, if New Zealand’s common interest and aspiration is that excellent vocational education need not be a privilege but, rather, the right of every individual, then we begin this journey of change from a place of solidarity.