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PrintNZ slams ‘radical’ government plan for industry training 

PrintNZ, the body that represents New Zealand’s printing, packaging and visual communication industries, says a government proposal to restructure the vocational education and training sector will “likely worsen the skill shortages faced by such key sectors as the print industry.”

AUT Uni Print Workshop
  Print workship at Auckland University of Technology 

Under proposals announced in February by the Coalition [Labour Party-NZ First] Government, New Zealand's 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) and about 140,000 apprentices and workplace trainees will be brought under a single government entity, the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology.

The plan would dismantle New Zealand’s current industry-led training and apprenticeship system and has shocked the vocational education sector. The Government says 11 industry training organisations (ITOs) would "no longer be recognised in their current form.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the new direction is necessary to redress a situation in which too many young people are going straight into the workforce with no skills, while vocational training and technology institutes are being forced to close or cut back in their operations.

Ruth Cobb
"Radical change": Ruth Cobb, Print NZ

While applauding the Government’s intent to encourage greater numbers into training and reform the polytechnic sector, PrintNZ general manager Ruth Cobb says the process should not come at the detriment of industry training organisations.

“Eliminating the vital roles currently played by ITOs and instead attempting to replicate all of their unique skills, knowledge and experience into one all-encompassing body would be a radical change to the current training structure.

“That would bring huge uncertainty to our and other industries, and history has proven such disruption in turn causes a slow-down of businesses that are willing to commit to training individuals,” Cobb says. “At a time when it is critical that we attract skilled people to our industry and can demonstrate a career path for them, any such disruption to this flow would have a significant and multiplying effect over the years.”

The NZ print sector currently employs about 12,000 people and provides almost $900 million in GDP annually. The industry requires about 450 new workers each year – of which 85% need to be skilled – to meet its predicted workforce requirements, according to economics researcher Infometrics.

PrintNZ currently works in partnership with industry ITO Competenz to provide “programmes that continue to successfully deliver these workers with skills specifically tailored to the unique and evolving needs of the sector,” says Cobb.

Print NZ
 (image: PrintNZ) 

 “The printing industry continues to go through rapid technological advancement and it is important that training programmes reflect these advances and adapt accordingly. We see the Government’s proposal as potentially stifling the ability of training providers to be flexible and adaptive, which would quickly see training programmes become irrelevant and abandoned.”

As well as having “grave concerns” about the capability of the polytechnic sector to understand an industry it has not dealt with for over 20 years, Cobb says the identity and voice of individual industries would undoubtedly be lost in a ubiquitous training body.

“With the proposed ‘New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology’ catering to hundreds of different industries, niche sectors such as ours would face a huge struggle to retain the capability of influencing outcomes that are particular to print. This could result in a disconnect between what industry needs and what is delivered.

“As well as very much being a niche industry, print is also capital and equipment intensive, continues to experience rapid technological change and encompasses a wide variety and types of printing. Because of this, a successful learning environment cannot be created anywhere other than in a workplace and any suggestion of centralising such specific learnings would be detrimental.

“The proposal could potentially increase costs of training and doesn’t recognise that employers already contribute substantial financial resources to the training of apprentices.”

Cobb says the reform proposal could also potentially decimate in-house training, does not consider the realities of training for specific sectors, could worsen skills shortages and ultimately does nothing to encourage either individuals or businesses to engage in training.

Elsewhere, some business leaders welcomed the vocational education revamp.

"For too long, businesses have been struggling to find the right people to help them grow, so ensuring our polytechnics are in a position to deliver with more consistency the quality skills we need will be a great step forward," says chief executive John Milford of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. "I’m confident that a slimmed-down, centralised system will deliver that.”

Josh Williams
  "Concerned": John Williams, ITF

However, the Industry Training Federation (ITF) says it intends to ask employers and industries if they would prefer that their training organisation is taken over by a single government-owned institute.

“The ITF is concerned that, despite ITOs’ efforts to bolster industry training, they will fare badly from the new proposals while the polytechnic sector’s poor financial management has landed polytechs with more responsibility,” ITF CEO Josh Williams told

“We currently have 145,000 people per year in workplace training and apprenticeships training in 25,000 firms supported by the eleven ITOs. This is the largest form of post-school education. We do this with just six percent of Government funding for tertiary education. For every $1 million invested in the tertiary sector, ITO-arranged training qualifies 300 skilled workers. By comparison, the polytechnics currently qualify 50,” says Williams.

The government is inviting comment on its proposals through an open consultation process that will conclude on 27 March.

A full copy of the government proposals can be found here.

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