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Street: Evaluating Workplace Learning

Hon Maryan Street
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

5 March, 2008

Address to the Evaluating Workplace Learning – Identifying Success conference.

Maryan Street opens the conference at Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Thank you for the introduction, Deirdre.

Greetings to Dennis Dressler, Jean King, distinguished guests, presenters and attendees at this conference today.

As a former school teacher, union organiser, industrial relations university lecturer and practitioner, my interest in workplace learning will come as no surprise to you all.

As Associate Minister for Tertiary Education I am aware of the critical role played by education, in its broadest sense, to achieve economic transformation in New Zealand. As a result of my other portfolio responsibilities, I am also aware that it is important to take a cooperative and inclusive approach to learning and training in New Zealand workplaces.

I am delighted to have been invited to open EREMAC’s inaugural evaluation conference with its focus on evaluating the impact of workplace learning. The conference programme looks to be a very stimulating one.

It is unusual that a Minister has the opportunity to open two events, one after another, with such clear connections. I had the good fortune to open the fifth New Zealand Vocational Education and Training Research Forum yesterday. It is very satisfying to follow up with this Evaluating Workplace Learning – Identifying Success conference. I am impressed by the complementary nature of the two conferences’ objectives.

I congratulate Deidre Dale, chair of the Employment Relations Education Ministerial Advisory Committee and the committee for taking the initiative to organise this conference; and for having the foresight to link into the range of opportunities offered by other stakeholders to learn about workplace education.

I applaud the Tertiary Education Commission, the Institutes of Technologies and Polytechnics New Zealand, members of the wider tertiary education sector, the Industry Training Federation, Business New Zealand, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the Department of Labour for participating wholeheartedly and lending support to this conference.

At this point I would like to acknowledge the support provided by the then Minister of Labour, Hon Ruth Dyson, to the Employment Relations Education Ministerial Advisory Committee when they approached her with their idea for an evaluation conference taking a broader and inclusive approach to outcome evaluation.

The government is focused on achieving its policy outcomes. The government also places a high value on evaluating the impact of the activities or initiatives on achieving its policy objectives and is committed to investing in initiatives that realise these objectives.

Increasing the skills of the workforce is one of these objectives and is a priority for Government. Recently the government reiterated the need to lift New Zealand’s economy through increasing skills and productivity. A new initiative, the Unified Skills Strategy, is our vision for the economy, which is to be developed through a partnership between the government, Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

This strategy will provide an opportunity to look at how skills are used, valued and retained, and how learner and employer demand is met. We will also be able to better understand the utilisation of skills in the workplace, which skills lead to high performance workplaces, and how young workers can be better supported into careers.

Our unified skills strategy will be about delivering lasting productivity gains to drive lasting economic growth. We need to raise our game still further. Improving skills will be one part of our work on productivity. As reflected in the overall goals of the strategy, we are seeking both the effective utilisation and retention of skills to transform work and workplaces, and to increase the quality of demand from employers and workers.

Healthy and productive workplace relationships also play a crucial role in building workplace cultures that provide the possibility for increasing and maintaining the skill levels in the workplace.

The government has invested in this area for some years now. One of the investments is in the Employment Relations Education fund, established in 2001 to support the objectives of the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

Since 2001, the government has provided $12 million to the Employment Relations Education contestable fund, which of course is in many ways an incarnation of the Trade Union Education Authority, shut down in 1992 by the then National government.

The Employment Relations Education Ministerial Advisory Committee is responsible for allocating the Employment Relations Education contestable fund.

The objectives of the Employment Relations Education funded programmes are to support the drivers for productivity through education programmes that strengthen social dialogue; and to provide for a sustained growth of knowledge and best practice in employment relations and health and safety in workplace practices.

This annual fund is made available to employers, businesses, unions and providers to provide programmes and courses with a focus on educating employers, employees and unions to understand better and apply the intents of the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

In their strategic direction, the Employment Relations Education Ministerial Advisory Committee has given priority to evaluating the impact of this funding. This inaugural conference with the emphasis on learning from impact evaluation shows their commitment to the role of continuous learning practices; and participatory evaluation methods for greater understanding of workplace practices and their learning habits.

Measuring successful and effective workplace learning is a complex business. It is important to recognise the rigour offered by different perspectives to understanding why some approaches are effective and others not; and how effective workplace learning practices can be transferred from one workplace to another.

Evaluation, as a learning practice and particularly impact evaluation can be a forceful research tool and a great resource for evidenced based learning and policy making.

I note with interest that the two key speakers Dennis Dressler and Jean King come with excellent credentials and knowledge for examining techniques and development in the field of evaluation methodologies.

I am heartened to see the number of New Zealand case studies from a wide range of sectors is to be discussed during the conference. I am pleased to see that:

- the Employment Relations Education funded programme evaluation is included and provides information on the impact of their approved and funded courses in the workplace, which supports international findings on transferable learning;

- the Agriculture Industry Training Organisation evaluation focuses on measuring the return on investment of the training offered;

- a joint study by the Accident Compensation Corporation and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions deals with evaluation on improving health and safety management in the workplace; and

- the Department of Labour’s contribution explores the value of partnerships.

It is a credit to all of you that the conference presentations are also examples of joint/cooperative evaluation initiatives. It shows your genuine commitment to lifting the quality of the workplace skills and productivity, which will benefit employers and employees. There is no doubt this can only be good for New Zealand as a whole.

I hope that you are able to apply the knowledge gained through this conference to your workplaces and keep this knowledge and economy growing.

Finally, I sincerely hope you have an enjoyable day and wish you a very successful conference.


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