Reform of Vocational Education

21 Mar 2019

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Learner numbers are dropping. This has seen the polytechnic sector turn from a once breakeven operation into one now making a loss, with the only exception being where there is significant external non-governmental funding. 

High employment is pointed to as the cause, but this has been going on for some time; the impact of the financial crisis was masked by international student numbers. Today the industry training organisation sector is seeing some increase in on-job training because of this fuller employment, but this is just a see saw; when one side is up as the other is down, and the learner numbers are still reducing.

The government has moved to address the financial failure in the polytechnic sector, with some wide-reaching proposed reforms that are currently being consulted on. But this is not just a review of the polytechnic sector – it applies to the whole vocational educational system, including the ITOs. 

There are four reasons why the whole vocational education system is under achieving:

- Polytechnics and industry training organisations are competing for students.

- Neither the polytechnics nor industry training organisations are funded sufficiently to deliver the best training, and the funding model has not received inflationary funding for 9 of the past 10 years.

- Industry and learners’ needs are not as central to what is taught as they should be – vocational training has to meet both industry and learners needs to be effective.

- There is a proliferation of training offered from a diverse, but confusing, number of organisations.

We have an underpaid, competitive, and under-performing vocational education system in New Zealand. The consequence of this is that both industry and learners are not getting the training that they need. 

These reforms are very welcome as a way in which to get our vocational training back on track. The risk? That the reform will be bogged down by the same impediments faced now, and what we as a country need we not be delivered.

The well-being of New Zealand’s capital is at risk, not just financial but also our social and human capital. We need a fully engaged, actively employed, and highly skilled workforce that all New Zealanders take an active part in.

- Mike Chapman, CEO