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Speech: Tolley - Vocational Education and Training

Hon Anne Tolley
Minister for Tertiary Education

22 April 2009 Speech

Opening of the New Zealand Vocational Education and Training Research Forum 2009

Rutherford House, Victoria University of Wellington

Thank you for your kind introduction, Jeremy (Baker, Executive Director of the Industry Training Federation).

I’d like to join Jeremy in welcoming to our keynote speakers:
• Professor David Ashton
(Honorary Professor at Cardiff University, Emeritus Professor at Leicester University and Associate at the Centre for Skills and Knowledge and Organisational Performance in the United Kingdom)
• Dr Johnny Sung
(Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Labour Market Studies, Leicester University in the United Kingdom)
• Dr Karen Vaughan
(Senior Researcher at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research)

I’d also like to acknowledge Dr Peter Coolbear’s contribution to the Forum.
(Director, Ako Aotearoa: The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence)

Forum presenters and attendees, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning and a warm welcome to you all.

As Minister for Education and Tertiary Education I am well aware of the critical role education and training play in this Government’s vision and ambition for our country. So it should come as no surprise when I say we are strong advocates of industry training.

That is why I’m delighted to be here today to open the New Zealand Vocational Education and Training Research Forum 2009. This Forum has stood the test of time and grown considerably since it began in 2004. As Jeremy mentioned, this is the first time it has been extended to a two day event.

I understand that this year the Forum generated huge interest from researchers and the panel that assessed proposals had a difficult task in selecting the final programme. What a fantastic indication of the strength of research in this area.
I would like to acknowledge the Industry Training Federation for co-ordinating this Forum each year, it’s a regular fixture on the calendar, and the Federation is a key player in driving the industry training agenda in this country. It is consistently an expert and passionate voice for this pivotal role.

This year I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting some workplaces which has reinforced for me what can be achieved when we stretch traditional notions of learning. Particularly, when we can provide opportunities for people at work - where they are everyday, working hard to earn a living that can change their lives.

However, I do acknowledge that this Forum also goes much further – it covers the entire span of vocational training. Not only learning in the workplace but all learning for the workplace.

This kind of learning directly increases the skills and productivity of our workforce. For a small country like New Zealand it’s important we do this as efficiently and cost effectively as we can, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

The economy has featured strongly in the news lately and no doubt many of you are already responding to signals from your own firms on how the recession is affecting them.

Those of you here this morning represent a wide range of industries - small or large, that may be losing workers or perhaps bucking the trend and growing, and although different industries are responding in different ways to the recession, it is clear that strengthening our economy through a productive labour market is as critical as ever.

At the recent Job Summit Prime Minister John Key made it clear that we want to determine – quickly - just what we can do to keep up or increase levels of industry training during the recession.

The intention is to keep looking forward and preparing our workforce for opportunities when the economy picks up. I know this is a challenge, and, it directly affects the work of Industry Training Organisations, otherwise known as ITOs.

The fact that ITOs were set up as a result of demand from industry puts you in a good position to support industries with skills development that is appropriate for the current climate.

From the Job Summit, this Government is actively considering what we can do to support firms and employees through this current recession, so that the New Zealand economy is stronger in the future.

Central to this strength is maintaining and improving the skill base of our workforce. Through the economic times of the 1980s and 1990s we all experienced the long-term costs of reducing our skill base through short-term decisions.

We will support ITOs and Modern Apprenticeships Co-ordinators to maintain these skills by working directly with employees and employers, particularly when these people are faced with short-term economic pressures.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce the Government has extended the timeframe for ITOs and Co-ordinators to find trainees new work, while still being eligible for government training subsidies.

Should industry trainees be made redundant, they will now remain active for TEC funding purposes for twelve weeks, double the previous six-week limit. This will give ITOs and Co-ordinators a better opportunity to use industry networks and find trainees a new job, so that they can continue their workplace training. The TEC will be contacting organisations with more detail on this change.

This change is one that we have identified we can move quickly on, and we are considering other measures that can help maintain New Zealand’s skill base.

And what part does research play in maintaining New Zealand’s skill base?

A Hungarian Nobel Prize winner once admirably put it:

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought”.

We must look forward to how we might change the way we do things for the future. It’s about breaking new ground and continuing to ask ourselves, how can we do better?

This brings me to a very important point – research is essential for sound policy and decision making. Without it, we’re just stabbing in the dark.

As a Cabinet Minister, I know how important it is for any policy to be based on robust evidence. Each year the Government spends around three billion dollars on tertiary education. There is simply no room for guesswork when you’re spending this amount of taxpayer money.

Finance Minister Bill English has made it clear that he expects value-for-money, and effective delivery of services. My colleagues and I do not need any convincing of this, particularly given the financial constraints we all face.

To achieve this, we must focus our efforts on areas that clearly require the most assistance and will make the biggest difference and research findings help us to do just that.

On that note, I would like to refer to an important piece of research produced by the Ministry of Education which looks at completion rates for industry training and Modern Apprenticeships.

The findings indicate that within five years of starting, around 35 percent of industry trainees and Modern Apprentices have completed their training. This rate is similar to the completion rates for students studying level one to four certificates in Polytechnics. It is also comparable to the results achieved by the vocational training system in England.

What does concern me is that more than half of our industry trainees leave their programmes before they gain a qualification – so they have nothing that they can take with them from job to job as they build their career.

Realistically, there will always be a proportion of non-completions – people change jobs, lose interest, change their interest, or businesses may close - all resulting in disruptions to training agreements.

However, the findings indicate that there are markedly different completion rates across industries, with some industries experiencing completion rates below 10 percent. The reports also indicate that there are not significant differences in the completion rates of Industry Trainees and Modern Apprentices.

We probably need to do more research to drill down a little further, but it is clear that improving completion rates in some parts of industry training and Modern Apprentices is a high priority.

The Ministry of Education will be presenting these findings at this Forum in much more detail than I can this morning. I have asked agencies to report back to me on this issue later in the year. I am very interested to know how we can use these research findings to lift the numbers of people completing qualifications, and I encourage you all to engage in this discussion.

This Forum has a very clear practical nature. From literacy and numeracy good practice, developing managers in small firms, right through to exploring learner motivation to complete qualifications.

This kind of research addresses what is actually happening – it is applied, not paralysed by theory that may never translate to the front line.
Sharing this practical knowledge will help to inform our tertiary education policy and make sure it is fit for purpose.

I know many in the sector are carrying out their own research, and I would like to acknowledge the work of many ITOs.

Can I also acknowledge the Industry Training Federation’s work on the Industry Profile Tool. This tool’s potential to match the education and training available to the demand for skills in more detail is promising and I look forward to seeing the outcome of this work.

Finally, this Forum is also about maintaining links with international research. There is a clear world-wide interest in this area, whether you are located in Europe or the South Pacific, governments worldwide are looking to their tertiary education systems to help lift the economic performance of their country.

This Forum will be treated to presentations from two keynote speakers from the United Kingdom - Professor David Ashton and Dr Johnny Sung, as well as presenters and attendees from Australia. Thank you all for making the journey to New Zealand and sharing your expertise and experience.

Both Professor Ashton and Dr Sung have carried out extensive research on vocational training, some of which has focussed on New Zealand. Objective comment from such high-calibre speakers will no doubt bring fresh perspectives to our thinking.

I am delighted that you are gathered here to discuss and exchange ideas on research in vocational education and training. Collectively, this Forum comprises people who are best placed to drive things forward. I congratulate you all for being committed to applying research findings in your own areas

I thank you very much for inviting me here today. I encourage you all to use the next two days to compare notes with your colleagues and mull over how best to translate important findings into practise.

I wish you all the very best for your time at this Forum.


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