ITO changes will be “devastating”

Competenz CEO Fiona Kingsford
Competenz CEO Fiona Kingsford

The Government’s plan to reform vocational education is short-sighted and likely to exacerbate the skills shortage, according to a survey run by industry training organisation Competenz.

The reform involves merging all 16 polytechs into the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, an organisation that will be responsible for delivering all on-job and off-job training. Industry-owned ITOs like Competenz would no longer exist, so would no longer arrange training or support and assess apprentices and trainees in the workplace.

The proposal was announced in February and ITOs, polytechs, businesses and other stakeholders have until 5 April to have their say – a timeframe they say is too tight.

More than half of the 780 people who responded to the survey said they were unlikely to enrol staff into industry training under the new system. Sixty percent said the changes would make the skills shortage worse.

The feedback was overwhelmingly opposed to most of the proposal, said Competenz CEO Fiona Kingsford.

“The majority of employers we’ve spoken to feel that the current model for apprenticeships and industry training is working well, so why do we need to fix something that isn’t broken? Any kind of reform needs to result in delivering more qualified people to reduce the skills shortage – but there is no evidence the government’s plan would achieve this. These employers and businesses are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, yet they haven’t been consulted to ensure the proposed new system works for them.”

Seventy-nine percent of businesses did not support disbanding ITOs nor did they support workplace training being managed by a centralised polytechnic. Seventy-two percent said the changes would bring uncertainty around how training would work and 68 percent disagreed that a new centralised polytechnic would be good for industry.

“Instead of massively disrupting the existing system, the government needs to incentivise employers to train more people,” Kingsford said. “Industry is at the forefront of digitisation, mechanisation and robotisation, and ITOs can react quickly to changes and advances in technology. This reform risks slowing down the speed of response to their needs.”

Kingsford acknowledged that the polytech sector needs reform and said there are some parts of the current proposal with which Competenz agrees. The funding system needs to be realigned to ensure learners and employers get the financial support they need to succeed, and the system must be simpler so it is more clearly understood and easier for employers, apprentices and trainees to navigate.

In its submission to the government next week, Competenz will propose an alternative approach that addresses challenges in the current system without such a significant structural overhaul and delivers what employers are asking for.

“Under our alternative, ITOs and polytechs would retain their current functions, and ITOs would be recognised for skills leadership and greater oversight of consistency across the system. Changing to one funding system for training and support will reduce competition between ITOs and polytechnic, though it is common sense to separate funding for ITOs to set standards and develop programmes. Strategic funding should be allocated for specific regional, sector or learner training needs.”