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New Industry Training Centre Has A New Approach

New Industry Training Centre Has A New Approach

Whitireia Community Polytechnic is opening a new Industry Training Centre today (Wednesday, 10am, Mohuia Cres Porirua). In practice this means larger, refitted workshops and equipment for students of carpentry, automotive and electrical engineering, plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying. It also marks the success of a new way of teaching trades.

Located on the old Post & Telegraph Lines Depot in Porirua, the bones of this development were right. "Many people trained for trades within these walls" says Chief Executive Don Campbell. Its not so long since students were streamed in secondary school towards vocations like this. In times past, trades meant a real job and a life-long career."

As Campbell knows, the trades industries have changed considerably. New technologies, global labour markets and large infrastructure projects all push for more and better graduates. Polytechnics are left grappling to provide new high technology resources and also more graduates with quite specialised skills. The skills shortages in these areas are national in scale.

"You can spend years in training before you even begin to work in the trades says Trades Faculty Dean Stephen Wickens. And then you might not have the skills needed." Recruited in 2000 to assist in the development of trades training, Wickens bought valuable experience from the automotive industry group - MITO. "Back then we had only 30 students. The challenge was simple, lift the qualifications to level 5 and strengthen links to industry based training. In short, do it well, do it fast, or go home!"

Wickens and the team have successfully found a way to train people quickly into work placements. Eight years later over 400 full time students are doing a unique thing - getting great general qualifications and moving to work and in-work training in a year or less - and getting quality qualifications.

"In the beginning, equipment was a little light says Graham Garthwaite, Automotive Programme Leader. The first thing we gained was a wheel balancing machine. We needed much better gear. When Wellington Polytechnic closed down we went in with several vans and acquired all the automotive equipment they were throwing out." Ultimately key staff also came over. "A big factor in what we do is great people" he says.

And he doesn't just mean great teachers. Industry networks provide new product samples to keep students up to date and ready to hire. Large car dealerships supply samples and also unused stock, for example. There are industry champions advising the tutors - they come from retailers and dealerships, automotive garages, parts industries, Industry Training Organisations, in other words, the trades themselves. The courses stay close to workplace practices and needs. This is a "real world, real work place" vision for training.

The Industry Training Centre at Whitireia Community Polytechnic aims to meet employers' need for people with good general skills, quickly. From there, the employer is responsible for specialist skills or advanced skills. This is managed through industry training. Graduates get into the workplace quickly, rather then accumulating years of theory.

"It's a more flexible approach over all says Garthwaite. Even in the classroom. Using 'self-paced learning' students learn to deal with a real world range of issues. In Automotive, they work on different engines, not just step by step unit standards in a room full of cut down models. "The old style of teaching was theory block 1, followed by theory block 2, all very slow and cumbersome. It worked in the olden days, when all polytechnics in New Zealand were controlled by four people from the Continuing Education Division in the Department of Education. I remember Terry Kelly from there coming in, clipboard in hand. He would say things like 'You're entitled to 12 lathes in this room.' Self paced learning means everyone's learning style is met, we cover more than the standards."

Putting the new vision into place has been made possible by prudent financial management at Whitireia. "The results speak for themselves says Campbell. The way this Industry Training Centre works with industry and Industry Training Organisations keeps our students current and valued. Last year every graduating student in electrical and plumbing had an apprenticeship lined up before the year was over."

So the old Post & Telegraph training site in Porirua has earnt its stripes in the new employment world. All its workshops - carpentry, automotive, electrical, plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying - have been developed or extended, refitted, added to. An innovative training method has brought it up to date, with a vision to solve the national shortage in trades people with fast acquisition of skills, effective standards controls to ensure quality learning and work, a strong industry network and twice yearly intakes of students (students can start in February and mid July).

These courses step to Industry Training Organisations' programmes, apprenticeships or just plain work. It is a collaborative approach to training that bridges the gaps between schools and industry. The students benefit from industry driven training, specified by industry and tailored to their needs nationally.

Whitireia Community Polytechnic does not duplicate industry apprenticeship type training or provide multi year theory qualifications - no trades research centres here - but gets people ready for jobs and workplaces. And it works, demand for these students is high. This facility will succeed and support the region because it moves students quickly into industry environments. Minister for Tertiary Education Pete Hodgson is the opening speaker today, one imagines he will be well pleased with the changes to this old lines Depot.


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