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Why the current education reforms are bad for Tech

Paul Matthews, ITP Chief Executive. 12 February 2021, 12:13 pm
Why the current education reforms are bad for Tech

Last week, Government consultation on the proposed Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) closed. The WDCs are the supposed "industry-led" standard-setting component of the broader Review of Vocational Education.

And sadly, it's not good news for tech.

Following lots of discussion within the industry, IT Professionals NZ put in a joint tech industry submission alongside NZTech, NZRise, the Aotearoa Tech Union and supported by TUANZ and CITRENZ.

Here's a quick summary of the concerns (or read the full submission here).

TL;DR: While our natural position is working closely with Government in a positive and constructive way, the proposed approach simply won't work for tech.


The vision

The tech sector, in collaboration with others such as Engineering, Creative Arts and Business, saw the Review of Vocational Education as a huge opportunity to "fix" many of the issues in the education sector, but also to establish a strong and dedicated WDC focusing on future roles and industries in New Zealand.

Other WDCs focus on the future of traditional New Zealand industry groupings such as Primary Industries, Manufacturing, and Health and Social. Detail aside, these are good, sensible and logical groupings based on like industries with much in common and a shared vision as to their shared industries' needs into the future.

Our vision was to create something similar, but for the broader digital and creative sector. This WDC would have a singular focus on one of the largest growing broad sectors in New Zealand and ensure that the future skill needs of both New Zealand's creative and digital industries, but also the digital needs of New Zealand's workforce as a whole, would finally receive the attention and focus required.

We saw this as the opportunity to build a culture within this WDC that was similar to our industry culture; promoting modern, new approaches to education as a whole, a focus on future skills, the chance to grow workplace-based learning opportunities in the form of apprenticeships and internships and much more.

However we had (and still hold) a strong view that this would only be possible if this WDC was built from the ground up with this in mind, including building these aspects into both the coverage and its DNA. Unfortunately our view of the current proposal is that this hasn't occurred.


The WDC industry coverage ignores the preferences of the Tech sector 

The tech sector, speaking with a single unified voice supported by the main tech bodies, presented several coverage models that would enable the vision of a WDC focused on the skill needs of future and future-focused industries, plus the digital needs for all future workers. This combined focus is essential for New Zealand's future.

While recognising all WDCs need an eye to the future, these models represented change and transformation and similarity of challenges. They were proposed following industry insight and consultation into what these industries needed to prepare for the future.

The tech industry's needs were largely ignored in the final proposal for both coverage areas and the Order in Council.


The WDC coverage is arbitrary and not future-focused

The coverage for the proposed WDC is expressed in terms of ANZSIC codes and these are not suitable to represent skills-based groupings, industry needs or the diversity of cross-industry skill requirements.

Putting that aside, an arbitrary number of WDCs were proposed, leading to arbitrary industries being bundled together by officials without an understanding of these industries or their needs. 

The currently proposed coverage for this WDC essentially includes:

  • Creative Arts
  • Hairdressing
  • Sports
  • Recreation
  • Digital Technologies (IT/Computing/Digital/Tech)

Currently digital technologies user skills are ignored, as are business and entrepreneurial skills, as these don't fit within the "industry model" used and no exception was made. 

We support the grouping with Creative Arts as there is a strong link and bond between many aspects of Digital Technologies and many aspects of Creative Arts. However the proposed groupings with the other areas of coverage are arbitrary and not in the interests of these industries or ours. Their future needs, structure, challenges and focus are entirely different to that of Digital Technologies and Creative.


The WDC Order in Council is generic in nature

The Order in Council as proposed is entirely generic for this WDC, save the Coverage section. There is basically nothing within the Order that distinguishes it from any other WDC, no shared vision and nothing that ties together the areas of coverage.

We believe this is counter to the intent of having multiple WDCs. The intent, paraphrased, is to allow for WDCs to work across like industries and each to have their own focus - otherwise it would be pointless having multiple Councils.

Most other WDCs group common industries, enabling a common vision. We are of the view that the lack of specificity within the name and Order generally is a product and evidence of the lack of commonality across the areas of coverage.


The Order in Council process for this WDC did not engage industry

Despite claims to the contrary, even within the consultation document itself, there was next to no industry consultation during the development of the Order in Council - which define the WDC and how it operates.

By and large, the tech industry's views were excluded from consideration during the development process and the WDC Order in Council development was undertaken in an overall structure and manner that resulted in a clear and distinct lack of opportunity for the industry to lead the development process.


The Order in Council does not allow the WDC to be industry-led 

During the initial announcements, releases and communications regarding the WDCs, the intent was clearly expressed that the WDCs and their formation would be industry-led.

The Tertiary Education Ministry Deputy CEO who announced the consultation still refers to the WDCs as being "industry-led" and "providing a strong voice for industry. See this video for an example.

But this is clearly and demonstrably false, based on the proposed design.

From the tech sector's perspective, the current proposal could well result in one person with links to a sports union and another with links to the hairdressing industry governing the vocational skills and qualification development process for digital technologies, or vice versa. This isn't just a possibility, it's a likely outcome from this proposed structure.

This proposed model is not tenable for an "industry-led body".


The WDC proposal does not adequately provide for industry representation

The proposed model of "industry consultation" is to "establish industry stakeholder groups" of "employers and Māori employers, industry bodies, employees, independent earners, iwi/hapu partners, learners and other parties with an interest in the specified industries" to provide "information and views" on various aspects to "assist the Council in formulating its advice".

The mandate of these stakeholder groups is to provide information and views only - there's no weight at all. The model also ignores the fact that existing stakeholder groups exist and there is no guarantee of real, genuine industry engagement.

In short, the model provides for a "tick box" approach to consultation for the new WDC - as has been evidenced during the process to date.


The Governance arrangements ignore the realities of the Tech sector

The establishment of the governance arrangements ignore the realities of the tech sector. For example, the position on the Council set aside for a worker from one of the industries covered is primarily appointed from nominations from Unions, however there is no established Union with wide tech sector coverage.


The WDC is completely removed from Providers

Again this may be an issue across the whole WDC process and structure, however there is no provider representation at all within the proposed structure of this WDC.

It is essential that the provider voice be represented, preferably at a governance level, within the proposed WDC structure. Skill and qualification decisions cannot and should not be made without top-level input from providers within both the Institute of Technology and Polytech (ITP) sector and the Private Training Establishment (PTE) sector.


The Tech Sector cannot support the WDC as proposed

As a forward-looking industry that is vital to New Zealand's economic prosperity, our natural position is one of collaboration and positive support. We work closely with Government in many contexts and generally enjoy a very positive, collaborative and constructive relationship. Unfortunately this has not been our experience during this process.

The tech industry's needs have been continually deferred in favour of finding an industry model that worked for officials, and decisions about our industry continue to be made by those without an understanding of the issues and consequences.

This is in the face of the Aotearoa Digital Skills Report released recently, which made such a strong case for the skills mismatch in industry to be resolved.

We cannot support the coverage, structure or governance arrangements proposed in this WDC and see it as detrimental to vocational education in tech, at a time where great opportunity existed through this wider review.

Where to from here… Who knows? If this was genuine consultation, the officials will try to resolve these issues and we're very happy to help.

It's certainly promising that the CEs of both the Ministry of Education and Tertiary Education Commission have agreed to meet with us to discuss digital tech education across the system, in relation to the Industry Transformation Plan. We'll keep you updated on progress.

You can read the full submission here.


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