Re-shaping training and qualifications

 Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, Civil Contractors New Zealand. 

 It may seem strange to talk about training at a time when work has dried up and businesses are struggling to keep their machinery working and staff engaged. 

We continue to advocate for a short-term stimulus package to support a continuing, healthy civil construction sector. But we also see the opportunity for government to come to the table to provide training to ensure there is a skilled workforce available following the lull. 

We know there is a mountain of infrastructure work needed over the next 30 years ($210 billion estimated by the Infrastructure Commission even before the major weather events early last year). It is just a matter of time before the government finally makes some tangible commitment to infrastructure, and agencies and councils start spending again. Industry needs to be prepared for this with a skilled and reliable workforce. 

The previous Labour government set about undertaking a significant programme of training reform, under the banner of the Review of Vocational Education (RoVE). That saw Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) established for key sectors (in the case of Construction it was Waihanga Ara Rau) to oversee qualifications, unit standards, and micro credentials. 

It also saw the polytechs and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) merged into Te Pukenga, responsible for training delivery. Apart from a couple of polytechs, most were failing their students, potential employers, and were commercially unviable. 

The new Government campaigned to disestablish the WDCs and Te Pukenga. We have strongly opposed the disestablishment of Waihanga Ara Rau. This is the one aspect of RoVE that’s actually working well. 

Finally, industry and those responsible for qualifications, with direct access to the funders, have been working in partnership; taking time to understand industry challenges and priorities, and taking an agreed strategic approach focused on outcomes that industry wants and needs. That the Minister is progressing with its disestablishment against the advice of industry and the WDC is disappointing. You know the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. 

While the Minister has met with representatives of the construction sector, she is yet to engage with the infrastructure sector (civil, water, electricity) despite invitations to do so. At a recent industry conference, in answer to a question from the floor, it was apparent that the Minister had not considered there is a clear distinction between construction and infrastructure. That is concerning given the vastly different approach to training between the two. 

To be frank, I’m relaxed about Te Pukenga being disestablished – it’s not going to make much difference to how much training is delivered as the training is currently delivered by employers. However, the majority of our work-based industry qualifications are delivered by Connexis, which is a stand-alone business division within Te Pukenga. 

Connexis is largely self-sufficient, receiving funds from industry businesses and trainees and investing those back into course delivery. A major concern of ours with the disestablishment of Te Pukenga is the lack of reference to workplace training. The changes will separate Te Pukenga out into polytechs again, which have so far demonstrably failed to deliver the kind of training the infrastructure sector needs. 

While much of the training for other trades may be delivered in the classroom, ours cannot. That is why we are working hard to ensure Connexis, workplace training and on-the-job qualifications are protected along with what these offer our industry. We are happy to consider Connexis being split off as a Private Training Entity (PTE) if that is what it takes to protect this. 

We are also deeply concerned about what will happen to the considerable funds that currently sit within Connexis; a large proportion of which have come from our employers on the understanding that the money will be reinvested back into training for our industry. 

I’m sure there will be the temptation for the architects of whatever rises from the ashes of Te Pukenga to solicit those funds in an attempt to offset the considerable losses carried within Te Pukenga. That would, in my view, represent a misappropriation of the money and we will do all we can to ensure the money is ringfenced for the purposes for which it was intended. 

For our industry to continue to attract new entrants and to retain our existing workforce we need to have a well-organised, structured and funded training offering. This is a critical part of our career pathway; important in differentiating our industry from others with whom we are competing for talent. Moreover, we need to foster ways for new people to enter the industry. 

Whether it is graduating school students, career changers, or prospects available via the MSD pathway, we need to be seen as the industry of first choice. 

How we organise and deliver training is an important part of that value proposition. We look forward to working with the Minister and her officials to continue to deliver the training solutions the industry, our employers and workforce need.

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