with Mike Chapman
Consultation concluded recently on the Government’s proposed Reform of Vocational Education. It was launched as polytechnics across New Zealand were struggling to remain financially viable. There are a number of reasons for this situation, but central to it is how vocational education is funded and what structures are set up to deliver vocational training.
For horticulture, I think one of the key failings of the system is that the needs of industry are not the key determinant of what vocational education is provided. The industry voice has been lost in the complexity of funding rules and competition between industry training organisations and polytechnics. We now have the first opportunity in decades to address this imbalance and move to create a vocational training system that is fit for the growth and expansion of horticulture. HortNZ, in its submission on the Reform of Vocational Education, said bold design moves need to be made so that industry and learners have a key say in what is provided and by whom.
Across all industries there are labour shortages and the situation is not getting better. Labour shortages are starting to impact economic growth and, if the trend is not arrested and reversed, the economic situation will worsen. The problem is relatively simple: we do not have enough entry-level workers to sustain NZ businesses. Entry-level workers can go on to develop more relevant skills and lead businesses. It is where careers start. Throughout NZ there is either a lack of New Zealanders, or those available are not interested or able to work in the jobs available.
Being ‘work-ready’ starts at school. We do not prepare our young people to enter industry in occupations that not only suit them, but will also give them a happy and long-lasting career. We all have different skills and motivations. The trick is to harness and develop those skills and motivation well before students leave secondary school. There are programmes to do this. But in many cases, these are add-on programmes and not seen as mainstream. One of the biggest impediments to school leavers getting and keeping a job is having a driver’s licence, so they can drive to work or go directly into truck driver training, for example. If getting a driver’s licence was part of the school curriculum, then the majority of students leaving school would have at least one necessary skill. A driver’s licence is particularly important for rural jobs and where there might not be suitable public transport.
For at least the last decade, neither the industry training organisations nor the polytechnics have received sufficient funding to run industry-tailored programmes that reach back into the start of secondary school. The proposed vocational reforms are taking away the funding split and resulting competition between the industry training organisations and polytechnics. But most importantly, these reforms propose to link what training is required directly to industry needs. This means for the first time this century, we can start at school in Year 9, getting our citizens work-ready for a valuable and viable career. This addresses the biggest factor in becoming long term unemployed – having a career, being skilled for that career, and having most importantly, employment when you leave school that starts before you leave school.
My plea to Government is: do not weaken on the fantastic and far-reaching vocational education reforms to produce some really powerful and long-lasting policy changes that will benefit all New Zealanders and see our young people with rewarding life-long careers.