It feels like a little bit of déjà vu. Didn’t we see the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) try to push training back to polytechs around 15 years ago, setting up “centres of excellence” to assist to keep the polys afloat? It was an unnerving time for the PTEs, like iskills, who deliver industry-based programmes. But nothing happened, really. Did it help the polys? Perhaps, but back then the government initiative had no effect on us. There will always be a place for smaller providers in industry, as we are able to adapt quickly, contextualise to different sectors easily, and most of all we can tailor one-off programmes without any hassle.

Is the vocational education sector ready for another drastic change right now? TEC undertook a review of industry training in 2012 and reduced the number of Industry Training Organisations from 32 to 12 between 2012 and 2018. The ITO merger was undertaken to harmonise operations to gain efficiencies and ensure funding was directed to the right areas and not consumed by the organisations themselves – who, in some cases, were servicing the same sectors or crossover in some parts of sectors. Some of the remaining ITOs are responsible for a group of industries that have natural synergies; however, some have a broad and somewhat disjointed range of very different industries to serve.

With the dust only just settling from this shake up, how does reducing Workforce Development Councils even further help industry? This will have major disruptive effects on provision of industry qualifications and standards.

Supply of new NZ industry qualifications, pathways, and training was interrupted during the 2012-2018 period of ITO merger and restructure. The rules for NZQF programme approval and accreditation were introduced in 2013 under section 253 of the Education Act 1989 and has also been a factor in affecting the availability of training provision for the new qualifications. Providers have had to apply for programme approval to deliver programmes, leading to the award of new NZ qualifications – which is essentially a form of reaccreditation. An additional layer of compliance ensuring consistency has been added to the existing measures in place to ensure quality.

Simultaneously, we have been coping with NZQA’s TRoQ (targeted review of qualifications) initiated in 2010 with an aim to significantly reduce the number of qualifications on the New Zealand Qualifications framework (NZQF) and to ensure they are useful and relevant.  On 1 July, 2010, there were 4,610 qualifications (levels 1-6). The NZQA estimated that this would be reduced to 1200 as a result of TRoQ. All existing qualifications would ultimately be replaced by a suite of new NZ qualifications and the old qualifications are still being progressively discontinued now.  Prevailing qualification pathways were allocated deadlines for completion for existing enrolments and allocated deadlines for accepting new enrolments. The ITOs, as the standard setting bodies for industry qualifications, are responsible for the trades qualification review and arranging and ensuring supply of training provision. For some of the new quals, training provision still doesn’t exist.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Perhaps it won’t eventuate if there is a change in government next year. Either way, we need to reach a point of stability in the sector so we can start to attract school leavers back to trade apprenticeships and counteract the skills shortage and ageing workforce in industry.