Simplifying the design of vocational qualifications

In 2020, NZQA engaged with key stakeholders and heard strong support for simplifying the design of vocational qualifications. These ideas were formally tested through consultation in 2021 with over 400 stakeholders providing feedback into this process. One aim was to bring industry, employers and iwi closer to the design of qualifications.

In September 2021, NZQA announced changes to the design of vocational qualifications. The Minister of Education enabled the changes through amendments to the Education and Training Act 2020 in August 2022.

The key components of the simplified vocational education system are:

  • Skill standards. These are the building blocks of vocational qualifications. Using skill standards as building blocks across the system will help learners move between different modes of study - workplace, online and on-campus learning - and between providers and regions. Skill standards will be developed by Workforce Developments Councils (WDCs) in collaboration with industry and providers.
  • New Zealand Programmes. WDCs can determine – qualification by qualification – whether to enable multiple programmes against the New Zealand qualification or to use a ‘national curriculum’ – now known as a New Zealand Programme.
  • Micro-credentials. They are included on the renamed New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework (NZQCF). WDCs and providers can develop micro-credentials. Providers can be accredited to deliver approved micro-credentials. Training schemes are now micro-credentials.

The following diagram helps explain how the different components work together (click here to see it full size (PNG, 97KB)).


Background information

NZQA worked with key education stakeholders to progress the design and examples of skill standards and New Zealand Programmes.

We consulted on rules for the listing of skill standards and the recognition of New Zealand Programmes across September-October 2022. 

For more about our engagement please visit the Sector Working Group page.

For more information about our 2021 consultation on simplifying qualifications, please visit our consultation resources page.

To download the Reform of New Zealand qualifications (sub-degree vocational qualifications) and other credentials PDF click here (PDF, 240KB).

Which organisations are affected by the changes?

The Education and Training Act 2020 gives workforce development councils (WDCs) broad direction to carry out their functions across vocational industries, encompassing almost all programmes and qualifications that have vocational aspects. The use of skill standards and New Zealand Programmes ('national curricula'), where they have been set, will apply across the sector.

Wānanga may choose whether to use skill standards, except where they are related to work-integrated learning. Wānanga may wish to be guided by skill standards for campus-based programmes but would maintain āhuatanga Māori and tikanga Māori in their approach.

For school-based vocational education training, skill standards will replace unit standards as the core components of vocational qualifications over time. It may take several years for a significant number of skill standards to be developed. In the meantime, unit standards will continue to count towards the credit requirements for NCEA at all levels, until the new skills standards have been formally set by WDCs.

There are a small number of sub-degree vocational qualifications offered by universities. Where skill standards and New Zealand Programmes have been set, and relate to those sub-degree vocational qualifications, they will be used by universities. 

What is happening now?

NZQA is working closely with WDCs, education providers, wānanga and other key stakeholders to develop the detailed design, rules, and guidance as well as an approach to developing provider understanding and capability. 

Over time, skill standards will replace unit standards as the building blocks of vocational qualifications. Arrangements for the transition to skill standards will be published as skill standards are developed over time. 

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