TEU member Bruce Delaney is a tutor in carpentry and joinery in the Centre for Trades at the Waikato Institute of Technology. Bruce has worked on reference and advisory groups in the reform of vocational education and the establishment of NZIST, and shares with us his views on the importance of ensuring a diversity of voices on the proposed Workforce Development Councils.

With the formation of all six industry-led Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) fast-tracked for establishment by October 2020, it is crucial that we as a sector, and as TEU members, call for a broad range of voices represented on WDCs to ensure learners develop the full range of skills they need to be ready for the world of work.

In the months until their establishment, it’s vital we get the composition of WDC membership right. It’s important that industry is canvassed effectively in determining the make-up of WDCs, to ensure wide representation from across industry.

As an educator and trades person, I have seen increasing specialisation within industries over my 40 year career, and as a result, New Zealand is losing the general, all-round trades people who once possessed a broad range of skills they developed through a mix of on and off-job training.

When a trainee enters an apprenticeship, they have an expecation that they are going to come out the end of it as a fully qualified trades person, but as a result of the specialisation we are increasingly seeing within larger companies, our apprentices are often robbed of opportunities to develop these broad skills. Here, off-job training is crucial in ensuring we are not limiting the skills, experiences and capabilities of the next generation of trades people, and it’s here where WDCs must step in to ensure this is not the case.

WDCs have to make sure they don’t lose sight of the end goal and expectation of trainees and apprenticeships, for the good of the students, of industry and a diverse economy. WDCs have a crucial role to play in ensuring these expectations are met, and not simply the interests of larger companies more likely to promote specialisation by providing training in limited aspects of a given trade.

Diversity and a full range of voices on WDCs is vital.

We should be concerned if larger companies, more prone to specialisation, and with perhaps greater capacity for involvement with WDCs, are allowed to dominate the industry-wide decision-making that impacts our industry and workforce.

Take joinery, for instance. Roughly 80 percent of employers in joinery have around 12 staff or less. Will these employers be less likely to have their voice represented on WDCs?

My concern is that, in contrast to the larger companies shifting toward specialisation, it is the smaller employers who are more likely to expose their apprentices to a broad range of skills, experiences, and all round training. These smaller employers are also more likely to be operating outside of the main centres, and may be less likely to have their voice represented in WDCs and in decision-making.

Diversity will also help ensure the protection of academic freedom by ensuring a full range of voices, interests, insights and expertise is represented in decision impacting us all. The industry, workforce, and training needs at the bottom of the South Island a quite different from those in the North Island. How will we organise and arrange a training system that suits everyone across the country? The proposed Regional Skills Leadership Groups will also need to work closely and effectively with WDCs to ensure these different needs are met across the country.

Crucially, we mustn’t lose sight of the value of off-job training as more and more larger companies move toward fully on-job, specialised training. One of the reasons there is this shift to on-job training is that it is cheaper for employers, but it can also limit the skills and capabilities of trainees who are looking for, and often expecting, a broader experience and education. Off-job training can ensure the gaps that specialised training creates are filled, and that we are training a more fully qualified and experienced workforce.

The work and composition of WDCs will play an important part in addressing these issues and meeting these needs. In the establishment of WDCs, we need to ensure all voices are represented in the decisions that will impact not only industry, but students, education providers, staff and the New Zealand economy.