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Risk we will lose training autonomy

Opinion Piece

The review of New Zealand’s vocational education (ROVE) under way is hugely significant. While some of what is proposed is warranted, there is great risk that EIT Tairawhiti will lose our regional autonomy to meet social and economic needs. We will no longer have the agility to respond with training and education to fill workforce skills gaps.

One of the proposals is to wrap all vocational training and education into a single national entity. Our concern is that remote regions like the East Coast will be much worse off as everything goes through a centralised body.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says one of his catalysts for change is that the system isn’t working. He cites the financial hardship and falling rolls of some New Zealand polytechnics. This is definitely not the case for EIT Tairawhiti.

Over the past 40-plus years we have responded to training needs throughout the region, providing learning centre opportunities for training and upskilling that has led to employment. Ruatoria is a case in point — in an area that has high unemployment, we are seeing our graduates gain meaningful employment.

Recognising that many of East Coast’s rangitahi are land-based workers, we have developed courses specifically to enable greater care and management of their whenua.

In many ways I concur with the Minister. New Zealand’s vocational education model could do with some serious tweaking. However, there is a risk that the proposals under consultation could make an even bigger mess.

It is true that as our country faces some critical skill shortages, enrolments in tertiary providers remain static. Many people are moving straight into employment on leaving school or their current role, rather than investing time and money into building their skill sets for future earning potential.

Many are deciding on study or work, when in fact the two options are not and should not ever be mutually exclusive. In a fit-for-purpose tertiary system, working and education and training should go hand in hand.

Some would say that system already exists: the polytechnic sector handles the campus-based full-time training and study, while the industry training organisations (ITOs) handle in-work study provision. The reality is there has never been a simple delineation for the training provider, let alone the employers and students/trainees that clearly need to be at the heart of this model.

By law, ITOs are not allowed to deliver training. They must contract a tertiary provider to deliver this (which confuses employers and learners). Polytechnics are increasingly delivering qualifications off-campus (either online or integrated within the workforce). The result is competition for the same students. “Turf battles” often mean there are no winners, and critical skills shortages do not get addressed.

In many ways I congratulate the Minister for tackling this issue that no previous government has been bold enough to address.

Wrapping up all vocational training into a single entity could remove a lot of the unnecessary competition for students and confusion from employers (and students) that currently exists. The huge downside for the East Coast is potentially, we believe, a loss of autonomy and nimbleness in moving to respond to the skills and training needs of our region.

I have always been a strong advocate of allowing regions as much earned autonomy as possible. No one knows our own regional needs better than ourselves.

EIT Tairawhiti has proven itself. We are an anchor institution in this region, one that competently brings crucial and measurable benefits to our community.

If these proposed reforms allow for any risk of regions like the East Coast losing our autonomy to determine what vocational education and training is important for us, this will be a massive backwards step. Our social and economic needs may no longer be met.

Public submissions on ROVE close on April 5, please have your say — www.eit.ac.nz/bout/reform-of-vocational-education/

Jan Mogford