Tertiary training overhaul bodes well for Waikato

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Waikato is well placed to benefit from a proposed vocational education system overhaul, says Mary Jensen, CEO of Smart Waikato Trust, education-to-employment leaders.

All 16 New Zealand polytechnics will merge into a single entity under a massive overhaul of the sector proposed by Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

“If handled well this overhaul will result in better streamlining of courses and training, as well as making it a lot easier for students and whanau to navigate the skills and technology education sector and its plethora of courses. The current interrupted funding model of trade training  between ITOs and polytechnics, and limitations of the apprenticeship system, has been hindering skills training in institutions. This has not served the employer or aspiring young tradesperson well. This is a good chance to shake things up and do better,” Mary said.

Crucial to the success of this major re-structure, however, is the right regional leadership group determining current and future sector skill needs and where current the gaps and duplication exist. In addition, increased employer connection into the skills pipeline is vital.

“In some providers we have seen empires being built over the years, with top heavy management, duplication of courses, marketing and enrolment processes. If these are centralised, it will provide greater savings to taxpayers, students and hopefully ultimately result in more resource available for better consultation with businesses and more effective teaching and learning.”

Technological skills are vital to the future needs of Waikato industries to maintain global competitiveness, and the overhaul gives the opportunity to implement change to some areas of vocational training not functioning well.

Vocational training in Waikato is in “fairly good shape” compared with other New Zealand centres, with Wintec the one main institute serving the region and not subject to challenges caused by a low population base or too many competing institutions.

In general, ITO representatives have been doing a “sterling job” of looking after apprentices and trainees in our region.

Smart Waikato staff also manage WECA, the Waikato Engineering Careers Association. The region’s engineering sector already provides robust training from pre-employment to trade, diploma, technology and professional degrees across several co-ordinated educational platforms.

“This training is all informed by an association of employers which sets Waikato apart as a New Zealand Centre of Engineering Excellence. Educational institutions work well together to achieve practical results for industry.

“The organised and informed approach by our engineering businesses and tertiaries means we are now well placed to become a hub for students from other areas, specialising in engineering at every level.”

There are strong links through project-based learning in secondary schools supplying the pipeline of engineers required to ensure that the Waikato’s lucrative export market, including the production and processing of primary products, is well supported.  A closer affiliation with Waikato’s IT sector is also underway.“A collaborative model informed by employers is needed in every industry sector in the Waikato to ensure the transition to sensible and relevant skills development and training is provided in the most efficient way,” Mary said.

Smart Waikato is a non-partisan entity with broad knowledge of need and current provision of training in all sectors of the Waikato economy. The trust’s Secondary School Employer Partnerships (SSEP) was recently awarded an Economic Development New Zealand Award for Best Practice in Collaboration with iwi, business and community.

Smart Waikato and WECA sit on the Waikato Regional Labour Market Strategy Group , Wintec’s Engineering Employer Engagement Group, University of Waikato’s Engineering Advisory Group and administers FutureForce® Waikato Media Hub, showcasing real careers in the region.   

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