As part of the Voices from Tertiary Education project, Kirk Hope, Chief Executive of Business New Zealand and one of the speakers at the vocational education and training forum last week, shares his thoughts on what needs to change in the sector.
A strong vocational education and training sector is important for our future economic growth.
We have some challenges to overcome before we get the system we need.
The vocational education sector faces some extreme financial difficulties. The situation is such that options are being considered such as merging polytechnics around the country, to ensure viability.
I agree that the viability of the vocational education sector is of the utmost importance, and I hope that ways will be found to achieve this.
But as we grapple with financial issues, it will be important not to side-line the key issues of learning, employability and business.
For business it’s essential that we have a high-performing vocational education system to deliver the skills needed.
Business needs a vocational education and training system:
- that is well-aligned with industry;
- that understands the needs of industry, professional bodies and businesses and responds promptly and appropriately to these needs;
- that links learning to employability; and
- that industry finds valuable.
I believe industry should be closely involved in vocational education. Industry should be able to set standards, define curriculum and programmes, and define delivery options (which should always include delivery in the workplace).
The system should be a partnership between industry – with its knowledge of what skills are needed, and vocational education – with its expertise in all things learning.
The involvement of industry and employers, at the system level and in the design and delivery of programmes, is crucial in order to provide skills that are in demand.
Creating a system with co-ownership and co-design needs thought. This is not an easy task, and it involves more than skills forecasting.
Linked to this challenge is the issue of making vocational education and training an attractive learning pathway for individuals, especially young and mid-career workers.
This means for example programmes that are as short and flexible as possible, and programmes that are adjusted to the individual person and his or her prior experiences and qualifications.
We need to consider how best to strengthen the lifelong learning potential of initial vocational education and training, including apprenticeships and traineeships.
There’s also the challenge of access to training of individuals with no education and low skills.
And all of this is within the context of great change.
Technology is changing industries and businesses, the way we do business, interact with each other, interact with government, and live our lives.
Meanwhile, globalisation and the aging population are requiring mid-career workers to upskill and retool.
Change is going to be continuous.
Flexibility and agility will be needed for our vocational education sector to respond to New Zealand’s critical need for skills.