AIC Training Conference

  • Brian Donnelly
Associate Minister of Education (Early Childhood Education and Maori Education)

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to speak here today.

I understand that most of you are from the commercial or education sectors, and have a practical involvement in training and education.

So, today I want to discuss the Government's policy on training and education, and then give you some of my views from the perspective of a former teacher on how it could work and what we should be trying to teach people.

First of all; the Government's policy on training.

The first component is to have industry take ownership of industry training, so that industries promote and manage workplace training and human resource planning in their sector.

Secondly, we want to enable a diverse range of training arrangements.

And, thirdly, we expect industry, employers and trainees to share and bear part of the cost of training.

Some of you will remember the release of the Porter Project in 1991, which caused quite a stir in this country.

Economic changes in the mid-eighties had opened up our economy to the rigours of the international marketplace.

But our protectionist past had not left us in a strong position to compete in this new environment.

Porter pointed to an urgent need to overhaul industry and our attitudes, if we wanted New Zealand to be internationally competitive.

One of the essential ingredients in this pursuit is improving our skill levels.

The old industry training system was getting to the point where it really need to be pensioned off.

We needed a new way of looking at the world of industry training, and to do that we needed a new way of arranging industry training.

This current period of reform of industry training in New Zealand was kicked off by the Industry Training Act in 1992, which spawned the 'Skill New Zealand' strategy, in which the Education Training and Support Agency promotes a learning culture amongst employers, employees and industry groups.

The Industry Training Act provides the framework for the industry to organise itself and take responsibility for designing and managing training in its sector.

The results have been impressive and the Act has brought about nothing short of a revolution in industry training in New Zealand.

For a start, we have a whole new system of organisations that arrange training.

Fifty one Industry Training Organisations are recognised for the purposes of the Act; 33 of them receive subsidies to deliver training arrangements in their industry.

ITOs have designed and set standards for hundreds of new qualifications, which are competency based.

ITOs can respond to the needs of employers and trainees... and in doing so the term 'apprenticeship' has been redefined to include more flexible training arrangements.

The ITOs have retained the best components of traditional training arrangements and built on these to provide quality training for a wider range of employees in a wider range of industries.

This has given more adult trainees access to systematic industry training.

Mäori and women have particularly benefited from the changes.

For instance, last year 20 per cent of industry trainees were employed in industries where, before the reforms, there were no systematic training arrangements.

This proportion is expected to grow.

Approximately six thousand women hold training agreements in 32 industries.

Around five and a half thousand trainees of the total are Mäori.

That total - the number of people in formal training arrangements - has increased to a record high in the five years since the Industry Training Act took effect.

Apprenticeships and cadet numbers were down to 14,900 in June 1993.

However, they have since risen to 41,221 as at December 1997.

The ITOs estimate that the numbers will increase to over 50 thousand by December this year.

We have to go back to the peak days of apprenticeship training in the mid-eighties to find as many people training in industry as we have today.

What makes this number of people really exciting is that they are not confined to industries that have always trained large numbers of people.

An obvious example is the Sport, Fitness and Recreation ITO, one of the fastest growing ITOs, which is operating in an area where there used to be very little structured training.

The old system also did not really give people any recognition for the skills and knowledge they already had.

Last year I presented the first of the new Level 4 National Certificates in Electricity Supply (Networks) from the Electricity Supply Industry Training Organisation.

What was significant about those awards was that they were largely gained on the basis of the knowledge the trainees already had.

That's just one example of how many people have the opportunity to get recognition for what they know and what they can do.

And people who never passed anything when they were at school are now getting Unit Standards, along with the psychological boost that goes with them.

We are making good progress towards having what was envisaged at the time of Skill New Zealand's conception - namely a much more highly skilled workforce, which will make a greater contribution to the welfare of all New Zealanders.

So, that's a bit of the background to the policy and a little bit about how the system works; what is the Government doing to support it? Firstly - and of most direct importance - is money.

The Government has steadily increased the Industry Training Fund during the past three years from 33-and-a-half million dollars in 1995/96 to almost 63 million dollars in the current financial year.

Last year's Budget set up two new programmes, Te Ararau and Takiala, which will help up to 1,000 Mäori and Pacific Island people into employment with Training Agreements.

This will build on the infrastructure put in place by the Skill New Zealand Strategy, through Skill Enhancement, Training Opportunities and ITO-led industry training arrangements.

And then there are the Training Opportunities Programmes, which target the most disadvantaged and low skilled job seekers.

This scheme is larger than many people think.

Currently the Government is spending $186 million on TOP.

On average there are more than 16 thousand trainees training at any one time.

More than 10% of trainees are developing skills in workplaces and 95% of training places are linked to the NQF.

Another example of how the Government can support the industry training policy is a current 'equity' project.

This is a joint initiative between the government and ITOs to promote sustained training opportunities for women in the electro-technology and seafood industries.

This 'equity' initiative promotes 'best practice' in making training accessible to all.

So, what of the future of the industry training strategy? There are two parts to this.

The first is the existing strategy.

As the government's co-purchasing Agent ETSA will use the Industry Training Fund mechanism to continue to encourage work-based training and on-job assessment.

Work-based training and assessment is cost effective and remains relevant to the needs of the employer and the industry The Government is also reviewing our existing tertiary education and qualifications systems.

You have probably heard about the two Green Papers, one reviewing the Tertiary Education system and the other looking at A Future Qualifications Policy.

You may have even been involved in preparing submissions to the review.

These green papers lay out the Government's aim for the future for all tertiary education and reflects the policies that are already incorporated in the industry training sector.

In the qualifications area, we believe that qualifications have to be of a high quality.

That is, they have to be credible and useful to employers, the public has to readily understand them, and they have to help students advance their careers through their lives.

However, we need to be clear what a qualification is; it is public recognition that certain levels of knowledge, skills or understanding have been achieved.

The Ministry of Education has received over 700 submissions in response to the NQF green paper, an indication of the considerable interest there has been in the issues and debates that have surrounded the NQF.

Over half of these have come from schools; plenty have also come from tertiary institutions, private providers, industry training organisations, employer, student and professional bodies.

Overall, the submissions highlight real tensions.

Many organisations want a single inclusive qualifications system, but there are also risks that a broad system could become meaningless.

Many recognise the need for changes to the current NQF, but there is also a need to maintain the benefits of the current system.

On the one hand, there are benefits in requiring clear standards and rigorous quality assurance, but on the other, there are also significant costs in doing so.

Many submissions argue for independence and objectivity in judging quality, but others note that in practice the expertise to judge quality often lies with bodies with vested interests.

Since the NQF green paper was released, the Tertiary Review and Teacher Education Review green papers have also come out.

A large number of NQF submissions noted the connections between these various papers.

For instance, if you think about improving quality in education, it is not enough to think just about qualifications, you also have to think about the quality of teaching and learning.

In thinking about quality, then, the question of how to improve qualifications is just part of the broader question about how to improve quality in tertiary education generally.

It is this broader question of quality that the Tertiary Education Review deals with, whereas - as many submissions rightly noted - the NQF green paper focused only on qualifications.

What this means is that, before Government can make specific decisions about qualifications and the NQF, it needs to address the broader questions raised in the Tertiary Review.

The Government is going to look at responses to the Tertiary Review in the first half of this year.

NQF decisions would follow after this.

By making our decisions in this sequence, we can be sure that whatever decisions are reached about the NQF, they will be consistent with broader policies for resourcing, quality, information and accountability that are needed to create an overall system that best meets the needs of all students and employers.

The Government has several objectives in the wider tertiary area. such as:

improving opportunities for participation - as well as the participation and achievement of under-represented groups; encouraging value for money; ensuring students have better information about courses and institutions; and, strengthening accountability arrangements of institutions to the Government.

The public response to the Tertiary Review Green Paper indicates that many groups and institutions feel threatened by the proposals.

They also show how easily some institutions can capture the attention of the media and public and how they are seen as the dominant forces in the tertiary sector. I'm thinking particularly of universities in this case.

The public and the media seem unable to come to grips with the reality that kindergartens are only one part of the early childhood sector.

In the same way it is also obvious that there is a diversity in the tertiary system that is not clear to many and which is a threat to some of the established players.

For instance, the proposal that private training establishments should be funded on the same basis as publicly owned institutions.

Now, many of you who are in business probably use private establishments for your training needs.

The argument that they should be treated the same as public institutions has some merit.

But to hear some people go on about them you would think that they will spell the end to publicly owned universities and polytechs as we know them.

Currently they get $7 million a year of EFTS funding from the Government.

A bit more, in recognition of the public good aspect of the education they provide, is probably fair and reasonable.

As the saying goes - "different strokes for different folks" - the Government has to decide on a system that meets the needs of people and society and not that of institutions with their own interests that might not be compatible with those needs.

I know people get concerned about the Government reviewing arrangements, but we have to admit that they will never be perfect and situations change.

Educational policy making is progressed through a dialectical process.

We confront the questions, make tentative conclusions, turn these conclusions into practical action, assess the results, and then confront the questions again.

There is no magic wand - and no perfect system - and the wheel turns full circle after full circle.

If we look to the future of industry training, we can make some firm observations.

Industry will have to continue to be very involved.

The Government's policy is based on a "training by industry for industry" philosophy.

ITOs need to recognise their leadership role in developing the human resource for their industry.

Financial contribution is required from industry.

Because employers will not willingly pay for that which they do not value, the business health of ITOs depends on ITOs ability to effectively research the training need, develop the products and services, and market these to add value to the individual industry clients.

The strategy has been a success and a huge increase in training has occurred, meaning more ITOs seeking more money. However, the Government is not a bottomless pit.

The resources from the Industry Training Fund should be seen as a 'top-up' rather than the beginning and the end. However, the 64 thousand dollar question is, "Is our education and training system producing people with the right skills?" The assumption implied in Government policy is that the right skills are the skills demanded by employers and industry.

ITOs represent industry and develop unit standards and qualifications that reflect the needs of employers in that industry. There are currently more than 11,000 units registered on the NQF, and 400 qualifications.

By the end of last year, more than 250-thousand learners had 'hooked on' to the NQF.

Schools have 'hooked on' the greater number of individuals, with the expectation that eventually most 'hook-ons' will be during secondary school years. As I mentioned earlier, there are more people in industry training than there have been since records began.

This suggests the system is working well or - at the very least - is appealing to many people.

But why do we need a training policy that brings many people into formal learning, at a variety of levels? At the moment we are witnessing the incipient universalisation of tertiary education after seeing the same phenomenon happen in the junior and senior secondary schools.

If education, and I make no distinction between education and training, is an investment in society, and if, as most nations do, governments are spending significant proportions of their GDP on it, then it becomes imperative that that investment is quality investment.

Until recently, New Zealand had a fairly draconian public examinations system.

At the end of Year 11, New Zealand school students would sit a national examination.

Fifty percent of them passed; the other 50% were labelled as failures.

Those who passed went on to the following year and sat another set of examinations in a quite narrow range of subjects.

Once again 50% passed and 50% failed.

It was a great culling system, possibly reflecting the mindset of a country with 60 million sheep, which got the chop if they didn't conform to our production standards.

At the same time, we had virtually a zero unemployment rate.

Our job markets absorbed the so-called 'failures' into manual and unskilled work.

As a consequence of this tragic under-investment in our human capital there has been much pain over the past two decades.

The changing nature of the job market meant that the New Zealand economy was unable to absorb such a proportion of under-skilled people, leading to what we consider unacceptably high levels of social disengagement.

We weren't the only country to go through this.

I don't believe that it is a coincidence that the boom in vocational training around the world came at the same time that economies slumped and unemployment soared from the early 1970s on.

The challenge to ensure that every member of our society has the skills to participate fully in, and contribute fully to, our society is a daunting challenge that educators and politicians must grapple with with urgency.

We are tackling that at the industry level with the partnership between the Government and industry.

There still remains, however, a weakness with integrating the senior secondary school into training and a wider education than that offered by schools, especially for the so-called 'non-academic' students.

Many schools are running good programmes through the likes of the Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource, or STAR, as its known, and school-business partnerships.

Many schools, but not all, are taking advantage of these opportunities.

I was recently talking to a principal of a school I used to teach at; it's an area of high unemployment and high drug use.

They have hooked on to the Framework and given the students the chance to study and work in areas such as marine farming and catering.

It has been a great success.

The students have really responded to the opportunity to combine the studying and the 'doing'.

And there are many schools around the country doing this and doing it well.

But I believe we need to do more. The Secretary of Education agrees and intends to put his policy people to work on the issue.

This brings me to another topic that is often discussed by employers and trainers - the 'skills gap' - which often seems to get blamed on schools and the transition from school to work.

Towards the end of last year I spoke at a conference called 'Beyond Competence to Capability', organised by ETSA.

I was intrigued by this notion of 'capability' and had to do a bit of reading to convince myself that there was really a distinction between 'competence' and 'capability'.

The concept of capability embraces skills and their development, but goes further by recognising a wider range of human qualities.

It is as much concerned with growth and potential as with current performance.

Competence is about dealing with familiar situations and familiar problems; we also need to be capable of dealing with the unfamiliar and the unknown.

As a teacher I always believed that I was developing the whole of my students' abilities as much as working on their cognitive development.

I was concerned with the 'whole' person, not just the bits labelled 'knowledge' or 'skills'.

Capability fits in with that approach.

It is a holistic concept; an integration of knowledge, skills and personal qualities used effectively and appropriately in unfamiliar as well as familiar settings.

Merely having skills does not guarantee that they will be used effectively.

Using skills appropriately requires virtues such as wisdom, knowledge, judgement and a sense of values.

We need cognitive ability to make sense of strange and unfamiliar situations.

And when it comes to taking action, especially where the outcome is not certain, we need courage, initiative, intuition, creativity, emotional stability and a belief in our personal abilities.

This notion of capability has been prompted by employment changes in recent years.

It's well understood that people nowadays tend to make more career changes, and make them more often than a decade or two ago.

People entering the workforce today can expect to change jobs every two years, and careers every 10 years.

If we add to that the purging of whole layers of middle management from firms and the increase in the number of part time or self-employed workers, then we have a labour system where people can be less secure in their chosen careers and, at the same time, freer to explore other options.

How do people cope with this? Is a general secondary education enough? Given the near-universalisation of tertiary education it is obvious that young people don't believe it is.

So, what sort of post-compulsory education do people need? And should we continue to make a distinction between vocational training and education? It's my view, as I mentioned earlier, that we need to break down the distinction between training and education.

It is an historical anachronism based on British class-ridden society and serves no-one well.

Fortunately, we have a more enlightened attitude to education and government policy in recent years has been to increase access as much as possible.

I was encouraged to discover that the concept of capability is equally applicable to vocational and non-vocational learning.

There is obviously a need for organisations to develop capability and to help their employees to develop their own capability.

The principles that apply to individuals seem to apply equally to organisations.

But if we concentrate on organisations and people in work we are ignoring those people who are unable to make it into work or tertiary education or training.

And there are obviously very high hurdles for many people to jump over.

Some of these can be things that many of us would take for granted, such as being competent readers.

TOP courses are designed to cater for people who have the most hurdles in their way.

The task for the education system is to give students the ability to develop their capability so they won't need to go on a TOP course.

When we consider capabilities, there are obviously important issues relating to knowledge and skills.

However, probably the most significant difference between the notions of competence and capability is the inclusion of personal qualities in the concept of capability.

I believe our education system has undervalued social intelligence.

We have emphasised IQ to the detriment of EQ, the emotional quotient.

If our educational system is to operate at its maximum level, a better balance between IQ and EQ is needed - a better balance between cognitive skills and social skills.

To this end, the launching today of the draft syllabus for Health and Physical Education is significant.

This is not to undervalue the need for emphasis upon cognitive skills, but I am saying there is a need to consider capability in terms of the whole persons.

This is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

With a combination of enthusiastic adult educators working both in the workplace and in institutions and schools doing the groundwork, the future is more assured.

The Government will do its part by supporting the system and making sure it works properly.

Your job as educators and employers is to release the potential everyone has inside them, for the benefit of both them and society.

Educational purists will say that it is dangerous to mix education with economics and the needs of business; that somehow mixing these two will lead to a tainted education system. I totally disagree.

Last week I attended an OECD conference on combating school failure.

The Secretary for the education section of the OECD, Abrar Hasan, made an interesting point. He believed that the interests of education and those of economies were converging.

I wish to finish by sincerely thanking those people, some of whom are in this room, for continually rising to the challenge that that Skill New Zealand strategy has created.

I believe that there have been remarkable achievements and those involved deserve congratulations.

I have read through the subjects of the papers to be presented through this seminar and can see that people are continuing to confront the issues and present possible solutions.

The pursuit of excellence has become enculturated.

I wish you all the best over the next two days and thank you for the opportunity of being able to address you here today.