8 Sep 2023

Industry leaders worried at National Party plan to scrap Workforce Development Councils

1:07 pm on 8 September 2023
National Party MP Penny Simmonds in select committee.

National Party education spokesperson Penny Simmonds. Photo: Phil Smith

Industry leaders are worried a change of government will spell the end of Workforce Development Councils that set standards and qualifications for the trades.

Representatives from a range of sectors told RNZ the councils were a big improvement on the industry training organisations they replaced.

The six councils were charged with setting and monitoring qualifications on behalf of their industries, created in 2021 as part of the reforms that set up super-polytechnic Te Pūkenga.

National Party tertiary education spokesperson Penny Simmonds said the councils were not connecting with industry any better than industry training organisations did.

"They're a cost of over $30 million per annum, and we know that Business New Zealand surveyed all their members and only 2 percent of their members knew that they existed, so that was not a good signal that they were working closely with industry and business."

Simmonds said a National-led government would scrap the councils and return the job of liaising with industry and developing qualifications to industry training organisations, which still existed as the workplace training arm of Te Pūkenga.

Garth Woodhouse from Hydraulink said he spent 25 years trying to get qualifications for the hydraulics industry, but it took the creation of workforce development councils to make it happen. He told RNZ he would hate to see the councils go.

"That would worry me. I would be very concerned over that. It would almost be a vote-changer for me if they did that. That's how strongly I feel about that. I just wonder if they don't understand the actual roles."

Fluid Power Association chair Tasj Paulson said she disagreed with suggestions the councils should be shut down and replaced by industry training organisations.

Te Pūkenga

The six councils were charged with setting and monitoring qualifications on behalf of their industries, created in 2021 as part of the reforms that set up super-polytechnic Te Pūkenga. Photo: wintec.ac.nz

She said the hydraulic industry worked with potentially fatal levels of fluid pressure, and new qualifications developed with help from the Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics Workforce Development Council had come just in time.

"We've a lot of guys on the cusp of retirement or past retirement and we're going to be losing industry knowledge within the next five years, it's going to be quite scary in this space, so we need those qualifications and the Workforce Development Council have just been incredible."

Cranes Association chief executive Sarah Toase said the councils were much better than the former industry training organisations (ITOs) because they were government-funded and could concentrate on industry needs, instead of on trying to make money.

"ITOs were essentially a business, and when you look at industries who don't have lucrative training, under the ITO model they very much got lost and that is certainly what happened with the crane industry. So it's been absolutely a breath of fresh air having the workforce development come in, say that they are there for industry, but then actually back that up with their actions."

Toase said the difference was like night and day. She said Waihanga Ara Rau, the Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council, had some of the same staff as the industry training organisation for her sector, and it was clear they were happier about the job they were doing.

She said the councils were the best thing to come out of the government's reform of workplace training and polytechnics.

Federated Farmers skills and training spokesperson Toby Williams said Muka Tangata the People, Food and Fibre Workforce Development Council had been doing a good job.

"The direction of travel they're going in is really good, we're really supportive of it," he said.

"One of the concerns we've got is if we do get a change of government and they scrap it and you're back to square one again, and all that work that's put in the background is thrown away and you start again from fresh. It does seem to be a waste of resources."

Engineering New Zealand chief executive Richard Templer said the councils had more influence over tertiary education funding body, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), than ITOs had.

"The Tertiary Education Commission is required to take their advice into account. There was no requirement with the ITOs. So when you work with the councils you know that the advice they provide to TEC must be listened to."

Certified Builders chief executive Malcolm Fleming said the councils were a success story because they engaged well with industries. He said the councils had a broader mandate than the ITOs, for example scoping the workforce needs for recovering from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Master Plumbers chief executive Greg Wallace said he felt that his industry had a real say in its qualifications through the council.

"Ultimately we can hold the training providers to account by our recommendations that lead up to TEC."

Wallace said if ITOs were reestablished, they would need the same influence over tertiary education funding that the councils had.

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