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Vocational education reform: Minister, go big or go home!

July 29, 2019

EIT Deputy Chief Executive, Mark Oldershaw

The Review of Vocational Education (RoVE) has quite rightly been getting some significant publicity lately. The reforms proposed by the government are significant and far-reaching. While EIT vehemently opposes some of the proposals and strives against the loss of its regional autonomy, there are some parts of the proposed reforms which are well worth taking into consideration.

In its first reform proposal presented by government, they address the role of industry bodies (ITOs) and education providers (ITPs). Historically, and currently, there is significant confusion for employers and students alike over the difference between these two training and delivery models due to the inconsistency of their programmes, pathways and funding.

The government’s objective within RoVE is to “clarify their roles and minimize overlapping responsibilities, so they are positioned to act collaboratively”, i.e. to merge ITOs and ITPs into so called “Workforce Development Councils”.
ITOs were established in the 1990s and were designed to work alongside ITPs as a work-integrated model. This means that apprentices enrolled with ITOs have to be in employment. ITOs don’t deliver training themselves and theoretical components have to be delivered by an education provider such as a polytech (ITP).

Unlike a lot of education providers, ITOs often don’t reach out to remote geographical locations, simply because it’s not cost-effective. From a commercial perspective, there is little or no incentive. While ITPs are government funded, ITOs are co-funded by government and employers. Often, ITPs are wrongly labelled as classroom-based even though a lot of the programmes have a strong work-based component such as trades and horticultural programmes.
Currently many providers and ITOs compete over funding rather than collaborating and acting in the students’ best interest.

Seen from that perspective, the government’s proposal to merge ITOs and ITPs appears to be justified. The ITOs, of course, argue that education providers might not be able to meet employers’ needs. We strongly disagree.

There is an increasing voice from some camps that the proposed ITO/ITP merger should be delayed or even halted as polytechnics are not well equipped to provide work-integrated training. This is absolute nonsense. A piece-meal prolonged process will create less student demand due to the uncertainty. And so further aggravate the shortage of skilled workers. If you get soft and nervous about progressing the changes, the outcomes will be significantly worse. Do it once and do it right!

RoVE is a once in a generation opportunity to restructure the vocational education sector. ITPs have a long-standing history of employer relationships throughout the country, from Northland to Southland, from the East Coast to the West Coast. We are a nationwide network.

The ITPs can undoubtedly take on ITOs role creating a single point of employer contact and better regional ownership. EIT would have to potentially take over 6000 apprentices who are currently enrolled with ITOs within Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. However, it has to be a true partnership from day one, not a married at first sight approach. We would need some changes to our existing skill set and support from ITOs, also we would have to make sure we uphold our solid connections with local industry and employers.

ITPs could and should offer both models, on-campus teaching as well as work-integrated training. This is the new model that many of us have currently embedded. However, to be successful and provide the right outcomes the government has to fund ITPs well enough to ensure that we can continue to serve the remote locations that are an equal part of our communities. The government has to ensure that polytechnics remain agile to regional needs and opportunities.

Our regions have faith in us, and so should the government!