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New directions for workplace learning - Speech

Hon Steve Maharey

21 May 2002 Speech Notes

The importance of strategy

New directions for workplace learning

Address to the Work in Progress, New Directions in Workplace Learning international vocational education and training conference. Wellington Town Hall Convention Centre.


Kia ora tatou.

Greetings to you all, and a special greeting to those join us from overseas for this important event.

I was thinking about how to start this speech, and it occurred to me that I should adopt as a model the introduction that was used by the host of a very popular Saturday morning radio programme - that radio host was Brian Edwards - some might know him as a biographer of some renown. Brian started his programme with a soliloquy known as “Brian’s week’.

I want to start my speech today with Steve’s week. It’s actually slightly more than a week, and it starts last Monday. I want to select a number of key events over that period.

Monday - I attend Cabinet. Cabinet gives final approval to a number of key tertiary education policy decisions to be announced as part of Budget 2002. Cabinet also approves the appointment of one Andrew West as the Chair designate of the Tertiary Education Commission.

Tuesday - In the morning it’s the release of New Zealand’s first ever Tertiary Education Strategy at a function in the Beehive theatrette. More on that in a moment. In the afternoon I meet with officials from tertiary education departments and agencies - Skill New Zealand, the NZ Qualifications Authority, the Ministry of Education, and the Transition Tertiary Education.

Wednesday - A meeting with unions and associations representing employees in the tertiary education sector as part of a series of briefings outlining progress with the Government’s tertiary education reforms.

Thursday - A flight to Auckland to speak at the Annual General Meeting of Competenz, the Industry Training Organisation for the engineering, manufacturing and food processing industries. The opportunity is taken to announce a Budget 2002 decision to fund a number of new elements of a Skills Information Action Plan.

Business New Zealand Chief Executive Simon Carlaw welcomes the announcement, commenting there’s a need for better quality information about skills, if providers and learners are to make the right choices to support New Zealand’s growth and development.

He goes on to say, and I quote:

“It is also very encouraging to see the emphasis placed on integration with immigration policies and we look forward to working with the Government, its agencies and tertiary education providers to put these initiatives in place”.

Still on Thursday it’s back to Wellington, a drive through rush hour traffic to the Kokiri Marae at Seaview, a wonderful welcome onto the Marae and the officially launch of Te Aro Whakamua: Building Futures, The Final Report of the Review of Training Opportunities and Youth Training.

Friday - A meeting with the Executive of the Industry Training Federation, the peak organization representing Industry Training Organisations.

Saturday - A Conference in Wellington with one or two colleagues. One of them, the Prime Minister takes the opportunity to make a number of observations about aspects of this country’s economic and social development, and makes an important announcement.

She says the following:

“There is a buzz about New Zealand which hasn't been felt in a long time ¡K

You sense it at the Forestry Industry Awards ceremony where hundreds of workers came forward to receive what, for many, was the first qualification they had ever earned ¡K

We want higher sustainable growth rates. What we have is good by the standards of our peers right now, but we would like it to be consistently better.

We want lower unemployment. Where it stands at 5.3 per cent is good by OECD standards, but with more growth and skills development it can be lower.

We've set our course for growth through innovation, and we're adapting all our policies to achieve that.

Education will play a huge role from early childhood through to tertiary and skills training ¡K

We all know that education and skills are the path to a life of hope and prospects, and not a life of despair.

Many New Zealanders have worked with us in government to open up those opportunities.

The hard work of teachers must be recognised.

There have been the intense efforts of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission which have helped launch New Zealand's first ever tertiary education strategy, a new funding system, and world class Centres of Research Excellence.

There has been the absolute commitment of so many people in business, in industry training organisations, in unions, and in polytechnics and other training institutions to get trade training numbers up”.

And she went on to make an announcement ¡K

“We promised to bring back opportunities for young New Zealanders through apprenticeship training.

By next month we will hit our first term target of three thousand young people in Modern Apprenticeships.

And it gets better. For the next term we are greatly expanding the programme.

Next week's budget will provide the funding for twice as many Modern Apprentices by December next year.

That's an extra $41 million to have 6,000 young New Zealanders in Modern Apprenticeships ¡K

Looking forward for the economy means the government building partnerships to make things happen.”

There is much in that speech that I want to return to.

Sunday - Still at the same Conference, and another important speech. From Ross Wilson, the President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. Among other things he says:

“The new Apprenticeship scheme has been a huge success. It is tremendous news that 6,000 more young New Zealanders will have a chance to take up new apprenticeships ¡K”

He goes on to say:

“This week the “Work in Progress” Conference on vocational education and training, jointly sponsored by Skill New Zealand, the CTU and Business New Zealand will be held in Wellington. We have almost 500 registrations. A training culture is emerging.”

And he went on to say:

“Whether the CTU can commit to a particular growth strategy depends on whether we can develop more cooperative relationships, not only in the workplace, but also in the broader economic and social pol9cy-making bodies and labour market institutions.

An ILO study published two years ago documented the remarkable labour market recovery made by four small European countries: Austria, Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland.

The study shows that social partnerships and the efforts of social partners and governments to arrive at new solutions played a critical role in their economic and labour market success”.

He then poses a challenge:

“If there is to be a social partnership approach we have to put it up there in black and white. What are we committing to and what are the expected mutual obligations and returns?”

So what do I get from unpacking that selective tour of my last week. What are the key issues and ideas that come most quickly to the fore?

Firstly a sense of scope and inclusion - of a tertiary education and training system that covers everything from transitions out of school and into further education, training and employment, through to world-class universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, Wananga, private providers and Industry Training Organisations.

Secondly, the sense of connectivity; connectivity between tertiary education and training policy and the other policies contributing to economic and social development; connectivity between providers of education and training, and consumers and end-users; and connectivity and collaboration between providers and other players, like ITOs, within the sector.

Thirdly, the importance of strategy; of knowing where you want to go, how you are going to get there, and how you will measure progress along the way. I quoted Clarence Beeby a number of times last week - he said in 1938 (an auspicious year for students of NZ history) in relation to part of the schools sector:

“The cause for surprise is not that [they] should have lagged along the road but that they should have gone so far, since no-one has ever quite known where they were going”.

Fourthly - and this is a point I want to return to - a sense of partnership; in the language of the first peoples of this place - kotahitanga.

The reality is, whatever the spin that is sometimes put on things, nothing happens in most areas of public policy, and in particular tertiary education and training policy, unless there is a partnership. And there is a particularly important kind of partnership - the notion of social partnership - that I want to return to in closing.

Let me unpack some of these key issues and ideas, and in doing so let me use this opportunity to sketch out the government’s new directions for tertiary education - in particular our mission to link the sector more closely to our economy and society, to build capacity and reward quality - and the critical importance of workplace learning within the overall strategy. In short to refocus our tertiary education sector on excellence, relevance, and access.

I want to highlight benefits and successes within the current workplace learning context and indicate how I believe we might harness these strengths to build on this momentum and move forward.

And I want to reassure you of this Government’s commitment to workplace learning as a fundamental part of the tertiary education world of the future. The success of our nation in broad terms will hinge on us building a skilled and adaptable workforce to meet the demands of a high wage, knowledge-based economy.

The Context for Change

The world economy is undergoing significant change. The demand for skilled labour continues to increase worldwide as a result of globalisation, technological development, and changes in the organisation of paid work. Jobs and work are being redefined. New skills and learning are required as industrial economies shift resources from declining sectors to emerging high value areas of production.

There is an increasing emphasis on the creation, storage, distribution and application of knowledge as the foundation for prosperity. Knowledge, together with skills, information and creativity are becoming the main drivers of a country’s competitive advantage. These attributes also make a significant contribution to social development.

If New Zealand is to actively participate in this age of the knowledge society, then our people must be able to enhance their skills throughout their lifetime. Employers will need an increasingly flexible workforce to deal with the ever-changing environment in which they operate.

New Zealand must become a nation that values and encourages innovation, which recognises and capitalises on our unique qualities and strengths, and competes confidently and successfully in the global marketplace.

The Government’s response to these external and internal imperatives is captured in a raft of reforms and new policy developments that seek to re-energise and move us successfully forward as a nation. Strengthening learning in the New Zealand workplace is a critical part of the reform process.

I would like to take some time now to outline the key components of the new Framework to give some idea of the breadth of the reforms and how they will work together to advance our long term goals.

The New Framework

The Pivotal Role of Tertiary Education

The Government is committed to revitalising the tertiary sector. There is much about our current tertiary education system that is excellent and many examples of innovation and success. Preserving and building on these strengths is vital.

However, the tertiary education system is incredibly diverse including all learning activities from adult literacy through to post-doctoral research. What the present system lacks is a clear and shared strategic direction.

It has been necessary, therefore, for the Government to embark on a comprehensive programme of tertiary education reforms to effect the long term shifts that we know are essential. These new directions are supported by increased investment by Government, across the board.

On Thursday my colleague Michael Cullen will announce details of significant new investments in tertiary education.

A key focus of these reforms, is the notion of better connecting tertiary education to the nation and its needs. Both here, in New Zealand, and internationally there has been increasing recognition of the need for tertiary educators to be actively communicating and collaborating, not only amongst themselves and with their current students, but with society as a whole.

We want to open up tertiary education so that it is dynamic, outward looking and enjoys a closer relationship with our economy and society - we must build on current strengths and make advances to improve relevance, excellence, and access.

At the same time we must consolidate the sector so that it functions as one internally consistent system with a focus on quality and maximum return on the investments made.

It is our belief that once the new systems are in place, New Zealand will have a tertiary education sector in which the key participants are working together effectively, towards the national priorities for education.

This is critical from a financial point of view, also. As a nation, we make a huge investment in tertiary education. Every day we spend more than $5 million to keep the system operating. This translates to more than $1.75 billion per annum. We must make sure that this investment also feeds into the achievement of our national social, economic and environmental goals.

The Tertiary Education Strategy

As I have already mentioned, just last week the Government released its Tertiary Education Strategy. This document is absolutely pivotal to the future of tertiary education in this country. The strategy not only articulates a vision for the development of tertiary education in New Zealand over the next five years, but also weaves this into the Government’s broader economic and social directions.

The strategy signals the key challenges for the sector over the next five years and identifies the steps that will enable us to achieve a connected and collaborative tertiary sector that sits harmoniously within the community at large. These include:

- stronger linkages with businesses and other external stakeholders;

- improved connection to the needs of learners;

- increasing connection within the system;

- improving global connections;

- increasingly able and visionary leaders;

- the development of future focussed strategies; and

- a culture of connectivity, innovation and optimism.

The Strategy emphasises the importance of:

- the existing strengths of the tertiary system and the need to invest in building future capability;

- strong relationships between the tertiary system and all sectors of New Zealand;

- all New Zealanders investing, and succeeding, in education. The strategy recognises the diversity of New Zealand and the contribution that the tertiary system must make to Maori development and to our unique culture and identity.

I must say that I have been encouraged by the strong support that we have already received following the release of the Tertiary Education Strategy, including from our partners in this Conference, Business New Zealand and the CTU.

The document outlines specific strategies in six key areas where we will need to lift our performance over the next five years. These are:

- strengthening system capability and quality;

- contributing to the achievement of Maori development aspirations;

- raising foundation skills so that all people can participate in our Knowledge Society;

- developing the skills and knowledge New Zealanders need for our knowledge society;

- educating for Pacific people’s development and success; and

- strengthening research, knowledge creation and uptake.

I would like to stress that although the Tertiary Education Strategy focuses on a five-year period, I expect it to be a dynamic document supported by ongoing dialogue with all of the stakeholders in the sector. It is designed to provide strategic direction to guide and support the implementation process throughout this period and beyond.

To give effect to the strategy it has been necessary to introduce a range of new implementation instruments, including a revised funding system.

The Tertiary Education Commission

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is the new body that will oversee and implement these reforms. It will be up and running in a couple of months time, once the Tertiary Reform Bill is passed, and it will play a key role in shaping the future for the tertiary system.

The establishment of the Commission is a fundamental part of the reform process as it brings together in one organisation the strategy and funding for all of the strands making up the tertiary education sector - academic, vocational and community education and training.

The TEC has been designed to provide a more strategic and systematic approach to the way tertiary education is funded and regulated. It will work closely with education organisations, industry and communities (including iwi and Pacific communities) to make sure their tertiary education needs are met.

Later in the Conference the Chair of the Tertiary Education Commission, Andy West, will be providing more information about the role of the TEC.

I would like to stress, however, that the key workplace-linked programmes currently managed by Skill New Zealand will continue to flourish under the new arrangements.

Growth and Innovation Framework for New Zealand

The Government’s strategy for reforming tertiary education has not been developed in isolation. It is also central to our overall intention to nurture and grow an innovative New Zealand that will lift our nation back into the top half of the OECD rankings.

The Innovation Framework, launched in February highlights the critical links between a highly effective tertiary education environment and the successful attainment of these national development goals.

For example, if we are able to achieve better connections between the tertiary system and other sectors, then New Zealanders will have more relevant skills and better information and knowledge. This will support innovation and productivity.

If we are able to provide greater access to opportunities for people to build their foundation skills then they will be able to better participate in society and contribute more productively through their work.

And, if the tertiary system better supports Maori advancement and aspirations then New Zealand will be a more prosperous and confident nation.

Connecting the Sector

A constant theme throughout what I have been saying, and indeed a driver of much of the reform work taking place in the tertiary world, is the need to better connect tertiary education with our economy and with our society at large.

It is no longer economically or socially viable for tertiary learning to be driven solely by the wishes and needs of individual learners.

If connections are to be made and collaborative approaches encouraged then they must be meaningful, they must lead to real innovation and contribute to economic and social advancement.

The need for there to be transparency, articulation, dialogue and collaboration goes beyond the tertiary reforms themselves.

At the highest level, the innovation framework cites a kiwi model of development that sees the government as a leader, partner, facilitator and broker working with other sectors to get results.

And at a more grassroots level, effective partnerships and collaborative approaches have been critical to the success of innovative new workplace initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeships and gateway. I will talk more about these shortly.

To underscore the importance of this theme, I understand that making effective connections and building partnerships will be actively explored as part of the conference programme today.

Your exploration starts from a very sound domestic base. It is a base provided by a shared definition of problems, and a shared sense of what we need to do in the future.

One only needs to look at the policies of both of our partner organizations in this Conference to get a sense of that shared understanding and commitment. Business New Zealand’s recently released Post-compulsory education and training policy is a case in point.

Workplace Learning - the investments, the future

Strengthening our current Workforce

At this point I would like to move beyond the framework and strategies and take a look at what is actually happening on the ground now - and consider where these strategic shifts and increased investments will lead workplace learning in New Zealand.

Tertiary education encompasses an incredibly broad range of learning opportunities beyond the school gates. University, polytechnic and other course-based learning opportunities are critical and well-known components of the New Zealand tertiary education landscape. However, it is this Government’s goal to ensure that by 2007 there is greater appreciation of the considerable diversity within our tertiary education sector.

In particular there will be greater awareness of the existence and importance of learning options for those currently in employment and clearly articulated learning pathways between these and other tertiary education options.

It cannot be emphasised enough just how important this group of learners is. As has been quoted a number of times recently, it is a fact that an estimated 80% of the workforce of 2010 is already in the workforce of today. This means that our strategy to build the capability of the New Zealand workforce must focus on those people working now - if it is to be successful.

The ongoing skill development for these people will be critical to business and to New Zealand. High quality vocational education and training not only provides learning opportunities for those people who learn best in a practical setting - it is also central to our efforts to build an economy characterised by high skills, innovation and growth.

To respond to these challenges, Government and industry have built partnerships and are working together with individual enterprises to develop a huge range of workplace training arrangements.

The Industry Training Strategy

The Industry Training Strategy underpins these developments and is responsible for the huge numbers of employers and trainees currently participating in industry training.

To give an idea of the numbers involved, at the end of last year (December 2001), there were well over 66 thousand (66,225) industry trainees working towards national vocational qualifications.

In the same year, nine and a half thousand (9,498) National Certificates were completed by industry trainees. This represented a staggering increase of 52% on 2000’s achievements.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Industry Training Strategy gives access to national qualifications to tens of thousands of people who would not otherwise take part in tertiary education and training.

Workplace learning not only passes on industry-specific skills but also ensures people can gain other important foundation skills, in areas such as communications, teamwork, literacy, numeracy and technology.

The numbers of industry trainees are impressive and continuing to grow. It is vital then, that New Zealand’s industry training strategy can respond to emerging skill needs and keep pace with rapid global and technological change. The system must be robust but also dynamic and responsive.

It was with these imperatives in mind that the Government completed a review of Industry Training in March 2001. The aim was to enhance the system so that it provides high quality training right across the economy and ensures that training investment yields the best possible results.

The review was positive about the direction of industry training and the key decisions from the review sought to build on achievements and make improvements to boost the flexibility and responsiveness of the system. Of great significance, however, was the Government’s decision to enhance the strategic leadership role of Industry Training Organisations (or ITOs).

These developments mean workplace learning will take its place as a highly valued partner alongside other learning pathways in a stronger more forward looking tertiary sector.

By 2007 the Government expects that decisions arising out of this review will have lifted the volumes, quality and responsiveness of industry training and encouraged higher rates of completion. ITOs will have embraced their enhanced leadership role - they will be identifying and meeting skill needs in their industries, effectively promoting their training to employers and employees and developing strategic collaborative partnerships with other ITOs.

As part of this “revitalisation” of industry training, the Government has also introduced innovative new arrangements, not only to boost numbers but also to try out new ways providing workplace learning opportunities to the many people who prefer to learn in this way.

New workplace initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeships and Gateway demonstrate what can be achieved with some fresh thinking and a collaborative approach to skills issues between Government, business and the community.

Modern Apprenticeships

Of the many examples of learning in the workplace, the Modern Apprenticeship initiative is one of the most exciting. The gap that it has filled is illustrated by the uptake since its inception in the year 2000.

There are currently well over 2500 (2648) Modern Apprentices working and learning in a wide range of industries. I am confident that we will have more than 3000 by the middle of this year, and I have already remarked on the announcement made by the Prime Minister on Saturday.

Modern Apprenticeships does more than simply offer learning and work opportunities to young people. The involvement of Modern Apprenticeship co-ordinators to support and mentor each apprentice helps to create a learning environment that maximises the benefits for both the employee and employer.

A further critical innovation of Modern Apprenticeships is that the training is not restricted to industry-specific skills. It also includes key foundation skills, such as communication, numeracy and information technology.

Many of the apprentices have moved into these positions from a pre-employment training course, such as a Youth Training or Skill Enhancement programme where their particular skills and interests were observed and developed.

It is these sorts of connections and collaborations that have made the Modern Apprenticeship initiative not only successful but also attractive. The clear pathways presented to young people - the possibility of moving from one learning environment to another - is reassuring and enables young people to think beyond what is immediately possible to set goals and to work purposefully towards achieving them.

These sorts of linkages and the expansion of pathways for young people to gain access to meaningful learning opportunities cannot be underestimated.


On this note, I would also like to mention the Gateway programme which builds links between schools and businesses and allows schools to offer work-based learning opportunities for their students.

At this stage the programme is still being piloted and is, therefore, modest in scale with just over 1000 students involved during 2001 However, it is already proving highly popular and very successful for those involved - and it offers exciting possibilities for the future.

For example, a number of the Gateway pilots are sited in areas with a high proportion of Maori and Pacific Island students. As this initiative evolves and is evaluated we look forward to learning how Gateway can effectively contribute to enhancing learning pathways for young Maori and Pacific Island peoples.

Meeting the Needs of Maori and Pacific Islands Peoples

Of course there are already large numbers of Maori and Pacific Islands learners involved in workplace learning programmes and achieving great successes.

Both the Maori and Pacific Islands strands of the Skill Enhancement vocational training programme achieve very good outcomes for participating trainees. (over 81% of trainees who left the programme in 2001 progressed on to further training or employment).

Maori are also currently well represented in the Modern Apprenticeship initiative (16.8% as at 31 March 2002) and as I mentioned above Gateway is shaping up as a programme that will help cater specifically to the needs of these groups.

Nevertheless, there is a very real commitment by this Government to improve the opportunities, the relevance and the achievements of Maori and Pacific Islands learners right across the tertiary education spectrum. This commitment is captured within the key strategic goals underpinning the Tertiary Education Strategy.

The recent review of Youth Training and Training Opportunities highlights the importance of such pre - workplace learning programmes to provide the essential foundation skills to enable those with low or no qualifications to achieve both education and employment outcomes. We have also begun exploring alternative workplace learning initiatives designed specifically to meet the transition needs of young Maori who figure disproportionately in the numbers of young New Zealanders struggling to move from school to employment.

Key Success Features

New initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeships, and Gateway actively illustrate many of the features we believe are critical to the success of tertiary education.

They are expanding the range of structured learning opportunities for young people, a group that often struggles to make a successful transition from schools to further training or work.

They improve access to learning opportunities by forging pathways between school or pre-employment education, and learning at work.

They help to enhance the transition from school to work or further learning.

They help to foster partnerships and strengthen links between the key players.

They provide practical learning opportunities to meet the needs of so many people who achieve best when learning in a hands-on way.

The formal structures of these programmes lead to recognised national qualifications. They provide a pathway for lifelong learning, they encourage the desire and ability to learn, and they help to build a workforce that can adapt to meet the challenges of the future.


Workplace learning is a key component of the tertiary sector, and strengthening workplace learning in New Zealand is fundamental to the tertiary education reform process. In many ways it already models some of the features that we believe will enhance tertiary education in New Zealand.

The workplace learning context represents a direct relationship between the learning taking place and an actual business need. The most successful arrangements also tend to involve collaborative partnerships between various workplace stakeholders (employer, employee, educators, union, Government) and transparent links with further education or employment opportunities.

The great challenge is to improve the way workplace learning links to other parts of the sector, to enable and highlight learning pathways within and across the sector and to improve the sheer volume and effectiveness of opportunities for people to learn while they work.

And equally important is the challenge to improve the connections between the benefits for the individual learner and business and the benefits for society as a whole.

Let me take you back to the speech from Ross Wilson that I mentioned earlier. In that speech Ross posed a challenge, and I sense that the challenge could equally be posed by Business New Zealand. Ross said:

“If there is to be a social partnership approach we have to put it up there in black and white. What are we committing to and what are the expected mutual obligations and returns?”

I agree.

I’ve talked about apprenticeships and the Government’s Modern Apprenticeship initiative. I have remarked that it takes the best of the past, and blends it with the challenge of the new and the modern. But there is one element of that traditional model that I believe we need to infuse through the tertiary education and training system.

The traditional system was underpinned by a system of support representing the shared commitment of the social partners.

A little over a month ago now those social partners, through Business New Zealand and the CTU wrote to me. The letter reads as follows:

“It has become increasingly clear that Business NZ and the CTU share a common view of some of the key issues to be addressed in post-compulsory education and training. Both organizations have identified the importance of improving the quantity, quality and relevance of workplace learning, both for enterprises and individual workers. Both organizations have a strong interest in ensuring that the Government and its agencies such as the tertiary Education Commission, recognize the importance of lifelong and workplace learning as a key component in the strategy for improving the standard of living of New Zealanders.

Business New Zealand has therefore suggested that the two organizations approach the Government to propose a tripartite initiative to promote lifelong and workplace learning ¡K”

There is a short and a long response to this invitation.

The short answer is “yes’; and the long answer is “yes, let’s get on with it’.

Seriously, I am delighted to have received this approach and the Government will be moving to work with our social partners to make it a reality.

There have already been some preliminary discussions, and I sense that we are agreed that a joint work programme should, in the first instance, focus on building the capability of enterprises, particularly small and medium enterprises, to engage in workplace learning.

We don’t have a name or a brand yet, and that is something that we will need to move on. I sense that we are all keen to build on a brand that it is already well known, and well respected. That brand stands for excellence, relevance, and access. That brand is “Skill New Zealand’. My own view is that this should be the brand that we use to take this new initiative forward, and all three of the partners to this initiative will be talking to others, including the community of ITOs and the transition tertiary Education Commission, about how, in concert, all of us might make on-going use of the brand.

Let me leave you with this thought:

Workplace learning is an integral part of the Government’s vision to transform New Zealand into a knowledge society. A highly-skilled workforce capable of continuous learning and able to adapt to change, will be an essential foundation for the economic and social well being of our country and their communities.

This is indeed exciting work in progress.


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