The facts about vocational education reform

November 8, 2019

by Fiona Kingsford, Competenz CEO, November 2019

Some of you will be fully up to date with the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), others may not be. This is a very brief update on what RoVE is all about, what stage it is at and some myths that need to be addressed.

What is RoVE?

On 01 August the Government announced seven key changes to create a unified vocational education system. As part of breaking down the barriers between on-the-job and off-the-job training, it will disestablish the eleven industry training organisations (ITOs), of which Competenz is one, and replace them with two new entities:

  • A new national delivery agency referred to as the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST), to deliver all classroom, digital, and on-the-job learning. This includes a merger of the sixteen Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics and the arranging training functions of the ITOs.
  • Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) with a powerful oversight role, responsible for leading the development of qualifications, standard setting, skills leadership, brokerage and industry advocacy. They won’t be directly involved in running on-the-job training themselves.

The WDC functions and the arranging of on-job training are currently ITO activities.

Where is RoVE at?

The Government is currently consulting on the establishment and coverage of each WDC.

The industry training organisations (ITOs) have proposed a seven-WDC model with slightly different vocational pathways to the six currently adopted. During extensive consultation with its industry associations and key employers, Competenz received feedback that their sectors mostly align with a skills aligned Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics (MEL) Workforce Development Council. They also support Competenz in taking a leadership role in establishing this proposed WDC.

The forestry industry showed a strong consensus that silviculture and harvesting activity would be best supported by a Primary Sector WDC. However, processing and manufacturing of timber and wood products would align with the proposed Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics WDC.

Competenz has submitted a summary of this industry consultation and feedback to the Government for its consideration when finalising WDC coverage, available on our website.

Once Minister Hipkins determines what industry coverage a WDC will have (expected to be announced early December 2019) the industry will need to determine how it will be governed.

The transition from the current regime to the new one under RoVE is anticipated to take until December 2022. By that time, all WDCs will be in place and all work-based training will have transferred from Competenz to the new national institute.


At the moment the vocational education system is not as efficient as it could be and, if you were starting from scratch today, you would not design it how it is currently structured. While Competenz acknowledged changes were needed to improve on-the-job training, it did not support the disestablishment of ITOs. However, this decision has now been made, so our focus is currently on getting the best outcome for our learners, employers and industries in the new world.  

When the noise around the reforms is stripped back the Government is essentially undertaking a regulatory/provider split. WDCs will be accountable to industry for the qualifications/standards it wants, and in turn WDCs will oversee the quality of that delivery by the NZIST and other providers.

This seems simple enough, and the foundations on which the new system is based have the potential to address all of the concerns we have raised, and then some. The things that will get in the way of a successful transition are people and culture.

Everything happens over the next three years, and there are already a bunch of mixed messages that, if not checked, have the potential to undermine employer confidence, at a time when skilled, qualified workers are so desperately needed in our 36 industries…and we certainly don’t want that.

Myth 1 – Government is creating a mega-poly to get out of a financial hole

One of the myths floating around is that all that is happening is the Government is creating a “mega poly” and it is only doing this to get them out of a massive financial hole. I can’t tell you if that is true or not, but I can tell you the system was creaking, and something had to change.

Myth 2 – The “mega-poly” will replace on-the-job learning with classroom learning

Another myth is that because there will be a “mega poly” established, on-the-job learning will be replaced by classroom learning. While that may be a natural assumption (as polytechs predominantly undertake classroom learning), it is not correct. The NZIST is not a “mega poly”, but a new national entity with an extensive network of campuses, responsible for all vocational learning be it on-the-job, off-the-job or distance learning.

Through WDCs, industry will still decide where learning takes place and what the best delivery mechanism is (on-campus, online, on-the-job, or a combination). In fact, given how rapidly the nature of work is changing, work-integrated learning is going to be an increasingly important part of making sure students are ready for the future of work.

Myth 3 – There’s no point in signing up an apprentice now, as they won’t be able to finish their qualification

Another myth is that there “is no point in signing up an apprentice as they won’t be able to finish their qualification”. I don’t know where it came from, but it is absolutely false. All qualifications remain, and everyone entering one will be able to complete it. Qualifications are controlled by the industry and are updated regularly – no change there.

Myth 4 – Competenz isn’t going to exist, so no point signing up with them

We are also hearing stories of employers being told that “Competenz isn’t going to exist so there is no point in signing up with them”. This too implies that an apprentice or trainee won’t be able to complete if they sign with Competenz. This is simply not true and all things being equal the only thing you may experience is the training advisor working with you may be wearing a different shirt one day. So ignore any rhetoric that says otherwise.

Key takeaways

  1. Reform was needed
  2. The NZIST is not a “mega-poly” but a new national entity responsible for all training.
  3. WDCs are industry-governed statutory entities, which will give industry greater control over all aspects of vocational education – they’ll get to decide whether programmes are fit for purpose and what the best way of delivering them is.
  4. There is no reason to stop training for fear apprentices and trainees won’t be able to complete.
  5. There is no reason to not sign up your apprentice or trainee with Competenz.

If you have any questions about the reforms at all, please don’t hesitate to discuss them with your local Competenz training advisor or email