One of the country’s largest industry training organisations says the government’s proposal to reform the vocational education sector and merge industry training organisations and polytechnics could undermine critical workplace and apprenticeship training that is vital in addressing New Zealand’s skills shortages.

Fi Kingsford, chiefr executive of Competenz, says, “The changes the government has proposed in its Vocational Education and Training review are more complex and far-reaching than we expected. It’s unprecedented. There is no doubt the VET system needs modification and funding needs to be realigned to deliver what our industries need – but these changes are too radical.

“In a time of critical skills shortages, the last thing we want is a reform that risks undermining workplace training and apprenticeship programmes.”

New Zealand’s skills shortage will see the engineering industry needing another 12,000 engineers by 2022.

She says, “If we start this reform in 2020, there’s no way we’re going to hit that target. Yes the system needs reform and yes we need to address the funding inequalities, but in our opinion, the VET changes are not the way to do it.”

Competenz says research has shown that for every $1m of government investment into tertiary education, the industry training system produces 306 qualified people; people who can immediately contribute to New Zealand’s economy, while polytechnics produce 50. Kingsford adds, “Taxpayers are getting a much better return on investment through industry training compared to other tertiary options and it is disappointing that the ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics) have dominated the government’s proposed changes.”

She says Competenz currently looks after 20,000 apprentices and trainees across 3,500 New Zealand businesses and adds that the direct relationship between ITOs and employers is a key factor in the success of apprenticeship and workplace training.

She says, “The role of ITOs is crucial and with our direct line to thousands of employers, we understand the demand for trades better than anyone else. When we surveyed employers last year, they told us that ITOs perform a critical function and need more funding. The VET goes against what industry is saying.”

She concludes, “We need evolution not revolution.”

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