Vocational education and training is now set for the biggest shake up in 25 years, with the country’s institutes of technology and polytechnics being replaced by one mega polytech.
On Thursday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced seven key changes he said would give the industry greater control over all aspects of vocational education and training, making the system more responsive to employers’ needs and to the changing world of work.
About 2904 submissions were made after Hipkins rolled out consultation on proposals in February.
New Zealand’s 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) will now be brought together to operate as a single national campus network.
Sweeping reforms of the vocational training sector will go ahead with all of the country’s institutions merging into one entity.
The new Institute will start on April 1, 2020, and will provide on-the-job and off-the-job learning. The head office will not be in Auckland or Wellington, and a charter will be set out in law.
No decisions had been made on how the system would be funded, which was yet to be designed.
When asked about the cost of reform, Hipkins said $200 million had been set aside for contingency, but would not say if that included funds to bail out institutions.
Detailed work would start during the transition process and would likely take a few years, Hipkins said.
In the meantime, the Government will help meet cash flow problems and will cover the cost of transition.
INDUSTRY COUNCILS TO LEAD
About four to seven industry-governed Workforce Development Councils will be created by 2022 and will replace and expand most of the existing roles of industry training organisations.
New regional skills leadership groups will represent regional interests and will work across education, immigration and welfare systems in each region to identify local skill needs and make sure the system is delivering the right mix of education and training to meet them, he said.
Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) will be established at regional campuses to drive innovation and expertise, and improve linkages between education, industry and research.
Māori will be included as key partners, including through Te Taumata Aronui, a Māori Crown Tertiary Education Group, that will work with education agencies and Ministers and cover all aspects of tertiary education.
During the next two to three years, the role of supporting workplace learning will shift from industry training organisations to training providers.
Hipkins said the dual funding system will be unified and simplified to encourage greater integration of on-the-job and off-the-job learning, ensure learners can access more work-relevant and tailored support, and enable new models of education delivery which are more responsive to employer and industry demand.
Implementation of the changes would not be rushed, he said. To ensure continuity for learners and employers and to allow time to build new capacity, the transition will take three to four years to get fully underway.
“Learners should enrol in the education provider of their choice as they normally would in 2019 and 2020, including in multi-year programmes, and I encourage people in the workplace to keep training and employers to encourage more workers to sign up.”
ADDRESSING SKILL SHORTAGES
The changes were tackling the long-term challenges of skills shortages and the mismatch between training provided and the needs of employers, by comprehensively reforming vocational education, Hipkins said.
“Industry and employers will identify skills needs, set standards and approve qualifications and credentials, and influence funding decisions.”
Reform would also ensure that trades and vocational education were recognised and valued, he said.
“We want to see more work place learning, more apprentices and more opportunities for people to earn while they learn.”
“Vocational education, trades training and on-the-job training have been allowed to drift for too long. These are long-term challenges that this Government is committed to fixing.
“The comprehensive changes we are making will address the widespread skills shortages across most industry sectors. These shortages highlight the limitations of the current vocational educational system.”
JOB LOSS CLAIMS
National’s Tertiary Education spokesman Dr Shane Reti has hit back at the reform, saying the changes were a step backwards and would see jobs losses.
He also believed it would cost the Government double the $200m it had set aside.
“Moving apprentices back to polytechnics and creating one mega polytechnic will cost at least 1300 jobs in industry and probably as much again in polytechnics.”
The Government had blatantly ignored the concerns of industry and businesses who raised serious issues with polytechnic training, he said.
“Employers are telling us they will cease to employ apprentices next year if apprentices go back to polytechnics. This is a big step backwards especially when our construction sector is crying out for apprentices.”
Tony Gray, chief executive of Ara Institute of Canterbury, said the announcement holds a number of positives.
“I see the reform as an opportunity to further show how good we are at providing vocational and higher education in our region and making the most of the increased opportunities for collaboration across our sector,” he said.
“The opportunities include the development of more work integrated learning and further developing our already successful apprenticeship model in partnership with others.”
Penny Simmonds, CEO at the Southern Institute of Technology, said she was opposed to the planned merger.
“It wasn’t what we were hoping for, so there is a feeling of disappointment from us,” she said.
In February she said she was “shell-shocked” and asked what impact the merger could have on jobs she said: “We won’t be making that decision. From April 1, they will be making the decisions on how many jobs there are here.”
Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker said the proposals would present new possibilities for staff at the institution.
“I don’t believe there will be any impact on our delivery for the next two years,” he said.
“I think there are enormous opportunities here for retraining, for people to upskill into better jobs. I reject the notion that this is doom and gloom.”
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