Thousands of apprentices and students will be disadvantaged under the new vocational education sector reforms proposed by the Government today - according to an industry expert.
The proposed changes will see the replacement of regional polytechnics with the introduction of a new, national tertiary training organisation - the NZ Institute of Skills and Technology. The new entity would have responsibility for the arrangement and delivery of classroom and work-based learning programmes such as trade apprenticeships.
Garry Fissenden CEO of The Skills Organisation, New Zealand's largest Industry Training Organisation (ITO) which represents 22 industries, 4,400 employers and over 10,000 apprentices, says this would create immediate uncertainty among businesses at a critical time in our nation's economic development.
The country's 11 ITOs operate under a not-for-profit model and were established by industry to maintain a close partnership with training institutes. The organisations set national skill standards for their industry, arrange training, provide information, advice and support to trainees and their employers and assess and monitor the quality of training.
He says the changes will undermine the crucial role of these organisations and reduce employer involvement in the learning process which will manifest as an increased risk to business.
According to data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, nationwide demand for construction-related occupations is projected to increase by 11% between 2016 and 2022, by approximately 56,000 employees to a total of 571,300. Occupations that are expected to experience the largest growth to 2022 include plumbers (15%), electricians (14%), and civil engineering professionals (12%).
Fissenden says employers may also no longer have the flexibility and choice to ensure the training programme for apprentices is relevant and immediately applied to their business needs.
"New Zealand has a critical skills shortage and needs thousands more apprentices to meet future demand from industry,
"Through close relationships with thousands of employers and trainees, ITOs have an essential part in bridging the communication gap between industry and learning institutions.
"Employer engagement in industry training is essential to its success - the proposed new model puts this relationship, the responsiveness of training programmes to business needs, and the employment opportunities of thousands of students in jeopardy," says Fissenden .
He says ITO's across NZ have relationships with 25,000 small to large employers and 147,000 trainees and that the Government has underestimated the value of these relationships in building workplace skills that meet the needs of businesses.
Fissenden says while the proposed changes to the sector are driven by concerns about the financial operation of polytechnics, the number of apprenticeships is growing.
"Under the current model, the number of apprenticeships placed through our organisation has increased by 45% over the past three years.
"While more can be done to improve the financial management of the polytechs, reducing the input that employers have in the development of industry relevant training programmes is a step too far," he says.
Fissenden says there are also concerns for the ability of polytechnics to adapt to regional training needs under a centralised structure as well as the logistical challenges of supporting thousands of students and employers through the transition.
He says any reform of the sector should focus on the key issues facing business today.
"Businesses want better access to more affordable training, an increase in the number of trade apprenticeships and better incentives for them to take on trainees," says Fissenden.