Building a new vocational training sector

17 Aug 2022

This is an article by Dr Grant Klinkum, Chief Executive of NZQA

Vocational education and training (VET) issues are currently in the headlines. Informed debate on VET is always to be welcomed because quality vocational education matters to us all. It supports individual skill acquisition and drives economic productivity and social progress.

Commentary on VET issues has recently focused on Te Pūkenga (also known as the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology).

Te Pūkenga will bring together all existing Institutes of Technology, Polytechnics, and the majority of industry training into a single national network of provision from the start of 2023.

As Te Pūkenga hits the reset button and builds on work already done by prioritising its opportunities and addressing budget challenges, it is useful to consider the wider VET changes.

What should we look for in a properly functioning VET system?

Students need to graduate with the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that successfully set them up for work and life!

This requires that the skills, knowledge and attributes graduates gain are the ones that learners, employers, industry, iwi and the community actually value.

Industry, employers and iwi haven't always seen a strong match between their needs and the skills and attributes of graduates from campus-based VET programmes.

Nor have industry training programmes always met the specific needs of industry. Too many firms have not engaged with industry training at all.

Recent changes to VET aim to place learners, regions, employers, industry, iwi and the community in a more influential position in relation to key aspects of vocational education and training.

Most significantly, the six Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) now have an unambiguous role to focus on the development of qualifications and skills standards.

These skill standards will be the basis for all tertiary education provider delivery, rather than the previous situation where tertiary education providers were free to ignore unit standards developed by Industry Training Organisations on behalf of industry.

Removing Workforce Development Councils from the arranging of training function that Industry Training Organisations previously undertook ensures that WDCs focus on developing qualifications and skill standards that will be relevant across campus based, distance delivery and work-based learning.

Similarly, placing work-based learning with tertiary education providers, such as Te Pūkenga, rather than with qualification development entities like WDCs removes the separation between work-based learning and campus-based learning that previously existed.

Importantly, this supports students to move between different providers, regions and between work and campus-based study as individual circumstances require. This avoids students having to repeat parts of their qualification.

Te Pūkenga will provide a national network of provision across the motu. The possibilities inherent in a national network of provision are far wider than addressing the historic financial challenges of some regional polytechnics, though that is very important.

There are opportunities for sharing and scaling best practice in learner support across the network, collaborative development of single programmes across the network and a default to sharing the best teaching, learning and assessment resources.

What is taught by Te Pūkenga and other VET providers will be significantly influenced by the qualification and standard setting function of Workforce Development Councils.

WDCs will approve national programmes against New Zealand qualifications where that is appropriate, or endorse provider developed programmes against New Zealand Qualifications.

If WDCs faithfully translate the expectations of employers, industry and iwi into qualifications, micro-credentials and skills standards that all relevant providers use, the relevance of graduates’ skills, knowledge and attributes should improve.

And if WDCs develop a mix of micro-credentials, shorter duration qualifications and longer duration qualifications across their industry coverage areas, the evolving and varied needs of industry can be better met.

Changes being proposed to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) aim to raise the importance of transferable skills such as communication, teamwork and critical thinking within qualifications.

Industry and employers have consistently told us this is critical to an improved qualifications and VET system.

There may also be opportunities as part of forthcoming changes to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework to better recognise Mātauranga Māori (indigenous knowledge) within qualifications.

How else does the new VET approach allow for industry, employers, iwi and community needs to drive the system?

New Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs) are up and running. The fifteen RSLGs identify skill supply needs within a regional labour market that need to be considered by local tertiary education providers and by relevant government agencies.

An interesting feature of the new VET architecture is the role WDCs and RSLGs have in relation to providing advice to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) on investment priorities.

How might this look in practice? If the horticultural industry believes more funding is required for stackable micro-credentials rather than long form qualifications, this is advice the TEC will need to consider in its allocation of funding to providers.

Or if an industry considers more priority should be given to diploma level qualifications over certificate level qualifications due to higher skill requirements, that would be put into the investment mix by the TEC.

This change is a significant shift away from individual enrolments being the only driver of funding allocations.

A relevant VET system is also likely to be one that fully values work based learning through the right funding incentives. Changes recently agreed see future work-based learning funding rates struck at levels that will support educationally rich delivery in work-based settings.

While necessary adjustments are made at Te Pūkenga, it is timely to pause and note the work of WDCs and RSLGs and changes to VET funding and qualification arrangements that will support a more relevant and responsive vocational education and training system.

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