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Opinion: Industry training needs funding, not fixing

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Commentary by Grammar Electrical director Aaron Dempsey

You might have seen the ads on the television - the young man opposing his parent’s wishes and choosing a trade instead of a university degree.

The message is great: ‘why spend years amassing a huge student debt to get a degree that does little more than boost your ego, when you can learn on the job and make a good living in the construction sector?’

Brilliant - these ads should have started years ago, before New Zealand’s student loan debt grew to $15.3 billion, (enslaving around 730,000 people) and before the shortage in New Zealand construction workers grew to around 50,000 (Source: MBIE).

That’s not to say that all university education is wasted, but let’s face it, much of it is, and with such significant labour shortages in our sector, for sparkies, plumbers, roofers, builders, machinery operators, welders and so much more, you’d think it was a no brainer to choose a trade that gives you skills you can use immediately and into the future.

At Grammar Electrical we know that our tradespeople are the lifeblood of our business and we go out of our way to ensure our people have a good working environment and opportunities to grow, and to develop specialisations. Retention of these key people is essential, as is attraction of new staff for future growth.

So, I was surprised and dismayed to hear that the Government plans to restructure the ITOs and to collapse the current framework of vocational training.

Chris Hipkins, the Minister of Education, released wide-ranging proposals in February for vocational education in New Zealand, including the creation of one institution combining 16 polytechnics - the NZ Institute of Skills and Technology, or replacing ITOs with ‘industry skills bodies’ and centralising the funding system.

At a glance, the process looks flimsy on detail and hasty in its planning.

From my point of view, the issue seems to be the Polytechs, rather than the ITOs. Polytechs have clearly lost their way and have lost the close connection they used to have to industry - seeming focusing on ‘bums on seats’ education, resulting in flimsy diplomas, rather than worthwhile vocational training of the type ITOs have been doing for years.

There is a clear need for reform of the Polytech system, but any move from practical, hands-on training should be resisted in every way possible.

There is a real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in these changes that fail to recognise the contribution employers/businesses make to the industry training system.

We are very supportive of the current ITOs that serve the Grammar Electrical business and the quality of workers we’ve developed through that training.

I am flat out running a business, I rely on my ITO to get my apprentices through the system, to troubleshoot problems, chase credit reporting from Polytechs, and bring in extra support that could be specific to just one trainee.

The Skills Organisation runs a training model that ensures my apprentices reach a consistent and a national standard and I have confidence that all apprentices who have completed their apprenticeship have the right skills and capabilities to deliver for my business.

So, I urge the Minister not to throw out the what works well with ITOs to solve the financial and administrative woes of some Polytechs. Take the time to genuinely consult, visit the regions, talk to employers to find out what we need to continue to provide the demand for apprentices and commit to training staff. We are half the story.

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