Equipping New Zealanders to help them thrive in the changing world of work

Equipping New Zealanders to help them thrive in the changing world of work

Last updated 27 September 2019
Last updated 27 September 2019

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler spoke to the Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand Conference 2019 in September. This is his abridged speech focusing on vocational education.

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler

Kia ora koutou katoa. Ko Tim Fowler toku ingoa. Ko au te pou whakahaere o te Amorangi Mātuaranga Matua.

The reform of vocational education is a big focus for me. I’ve been out and about talking to a range of groups about the work across the reforms and the opportunities for their input.

The tertiary education landscape is one of constant evolution, and we’re certainly seeing change now at a greater scale than any other time. The opportunities for all of us are how these pieces of work fit together, particularly, what it means for TEC and how we work with you and other tertiary education organisations.

Minister Hipkins talked to you already about his vision of a reformed vocational education system that focuses on the needs of learners, employers and communities. The reforms to vocational education are only part of that vision and it’s the integration across the education landscape that will bring real benefits.

I know there has always been some outstanding education delivered by ITENZ members, but it is the greater collaboration between all education players that will enable us all to do so much more.   

We all want learners to get the educational and employment outcomes from vocational education and training that is responsive to their needs. It is the opportunity to build this capacity that excites me the most about these reforms. Your unique role representing private tertiary institutions means that you can bring insights from across your membership and provide practical information to both your members and to government agencies. PTEs will continue to be important connections for employers to recruit and develop the skilled, productive people their businesses need to thrive.

For me, this fits well with our work in prioritising the needs of learners who are traditionally underserved by the education system. There is a strong principle of inclusion across all of this change.

Māori, Pacific and learners with disabilities are more likely to be enrolled in lower-level vocational education qualifications and have poorer employment outcomes. This needs to change and that’s something that TEC is really focused on, through our work in particular with learner success. Māori and Pacific students often can’t access culturally-responsive learning. Learners with disabilities and those without good school results often don’t get the support they need. People in rural areas and smaller towns may not have access to vocational education at all.

It’s clear that New Zealand needs a tertiary education system that works for all, not just some.

And New Zealanders need a system where learners have the support to make good educational choices. Where communities have a voice in how and when they learn. And we need tertiary education organisations that are focused on, and successful in, improving learner outcomes. The reforms of vocational education are only part of this but they provide an impetus for a radical shift across the tertiary system with new approaches to ensure learner success.

I know many of you were able to come to our Ōritetanga conference last month and hear Tim Renick from Georgia State University. Tim led a change in approach to target and support learners who were struggling with a variety of issues. Georgia State University intervened with rapid responses designed to support and enable the success of individual learners.

It’s not about changing just one part of an organisation, or one organisation. That will not achieve the system change we need. Chief executives, councils and staff members, private and public organisations, communities and whānau – everyone needs to be driving this.

Engaged and empowered communities are important players in the vocational education reforms and in building learner success. The reform of vocational education gives us further opportunities to enable our communities and employers. However, we know that the responsibility for success does not begin and end at the gates of a tertiary provider. We all need to do more to ensure that communities (including iwi/Māori and Pacific) have a voice in shaping the system. That means designing our system to provide effective support where it is needed, based on deeply understanding learners.

In the last decade, the information gathered from data and analytics has allowed the rapid systemisation of things like student enrolment, which also allows for better service design and delivery to students. Through our Plan Guidance and Investment Toolkits, TEC and TEOs are able to see a consistent picture of what’s happening, and agree specific shifts for each TEO. Smart use of this data can lead us to the success we envision and need.

Across all of this – the reforms for vocational education, building learner success and supporting our communities – is the changing world of work.

We need to address a serious skills shortage across a number of industry sectors.

New Zealand is experiencing persistent and widespread skills shortages that highlight workforce challenges for our employers. Half of all businesses are having trouble finding skilled labour, and this has been steadily increasing since 2009.

Many employers haven’t engaged in training and apprenticeships because they find the system too complex and they think it’s too costly for them. For some industries, there isn’t the high-quality, work-focused learning they need.

For learners, our vocational education system hasn’t always made it easy for people to begin training or learning or to move between on-the-job and off-the-job training, especially when they get a job or move region. 

Our vocational education system needs to connect with current training needs but we also need to think about the future. What are the changes that our industries are already experiencing? What are the skills that we need to be building?

The reforms of vocational education will support the response to immediate skills shortages but for me, there is also the opportunity here to respond to the growing need for lifelong learning.

We know that the journey through school to tertiary study (vocational or academic) and to work is not a linear trip. The changing nature of work and education means that the paths from school to tertiary study or training and into work are shifting, with people going back and forth throughout their working lives.

The reforms for vocational education are supporting that shift.

Tim Fowler

Chief Executive, Tertiary Education Commission