In a recent media release, TEU Tumu Whakarae National President Michael Gilchrist said, ‘we are baffled that for all the talk of collaboration and the unifying of the system, we have a first run of the legislation saying that industry will drive the direction of vocational education’.

It is baffling, especially if we take the view that vocational education and training (VET) is preparation for life-long learning in occupations, careers, trades and professions, in public and private sectors – not just for industry.  

But it is perhaps predictable. For two decades, successive Tertiary Education Strategies have consistently privileged business and industry.  

Most recently, one of the background papers leading up to the Bill has been quite explicit. It announced, for instance:  

“Create Workforce Development Councils: Around four to seven industry-governed bodies, to give industry greater leadership across vocational education.

(for business owners)  The reform of vocational education presents an opportunity for you to decide what you want industry training to look like and to work with the Government to make it happen.

Industry and employers will have greater influence over the courses and training offered within the new vocational education system, making it easier for you to access training that meets your changing needs. Industry-governed workforce development councils will have comprehensive responsibilities, including advising on funding decisions, standard setting and learner assessment” (Conversation: Reform of Vocational Education, Aug 2019).  

Likewise, in his initial speech proposing the NZ Institute of Skills ad Technology, the Minister announced a strong role for external groups and prioritised industry:  

“...the Government’s first proposal is to give industry an increased leadership role in vocational education... a system that will work for everyone, with strong industry leadership...”

There may be two factors driving the development. One is that the moment industry and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) learned of the coming changes, they beat a path to the Minister’s office to protest. The outcome is a trade-off: industry loses ITOs but gets overall direction of VET programmes.  

The other factor is that vocational education is TEC territory. It is entirely consistent for the TEC to promote skills-based, work-ready VE, and therefore to favour industry oversight.  

Hence the Bill has a sharply limited notion of vocational education:  

“vocational education and training means education and training that leads to the achievement of industry-developed skill standards, qualifications, or other awards”.  

I argue something quite traditional. It is the academic teaching staff of polytechnics who should direct VET, bringing their careers to bear, and working with industry as they see fit.    

Polytechnic staff have no trouble relating to industries, building connections with them, working with industry, consulting, drawing on specialized knowledge beyond their own institutions. But it is the task of polytechnic staff to direct the education.  

If polytechnic staff have responses to the Bill, now is the time to act. The Bill will presumably go to a Parliamentary Select Committee, which is duty-bound to invite written and spoken submissions.  

But beyond the useful Parliamentary action, what are the chances that a large majority of the TEU local branches could respond vigorously to the Minister about the direction of the Bill? We need to act now.