Education reform must prioritise the needs of staff and learners

The Public Service Association welcomes the government’s commitment to education reform, but says there are widespread concerns about job security during such a significant restructure.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced a set of major reforms to how polytechnics and Industry Training Organisations operate in New Zealand.

"We want to live in a country where learning is a lifelong process for everyone, with a particular emphasis on supporting workplace training. The government’s reforms appear to share this goal," says Kerry Davies, National Secretary of the PSA.

"Workers in polytechnics and ITOs have a wealth of knowledge to share, and they will commit to engaging with change if their job security is guaranteed."

PSA members have welcomed Minister Hipkins’ commitment that staff will be represented on a transition board, and are eager to step up and advocate for their colleagues alongside government and employer representatives.

Trends such as automation suggest future workplaces may look very different to those of today, and New Zealand workers will benefit from broadening their skill sets through workplace training.

There is a risk employers may deny staff access to training as part of a full qualification, and substitute it instead with task-based learning known as micro-credentialing.

"Employers might be unwilling to invest in comprehensive vocational training for older workers, women, or disabled people, who are unfairly seen as less likely to commit to a career path," says Ms Davies.

"This trend could lead to a fragmentation of education and fewer people getting the qualifications they need, and we urge the government to be wary of it".

Some PSA members, particularly those working in successful ITOs, feel unclear why their jobs are subject to a reform package that might be better focused on underperforming organisations.

"Nothing should be changed simply for the sake of changing it," says Ms Davies.

"If an institution is delivering positive outcomes for learners, we should think long and hard about what could be gained by drastically altering how it operates."