Vocational training, how it is valued, accessed, and delivered is starting to look completely different in New Zealand. The whole system is being overhauled and some are happy with the proposed changes and some are not. It’s long overdue in my view, with some of these changes bringing us on par with how vocational training has evolved in other countries.

A decade ago, I worked for a sector skills council in the UK, focused entirely on the arts and creative industries. It was a conduit between employers, industry organisations, education and training providers and government. It researched what skills employers needed (including sole traders), and then benchmarked this information against the range and quality of qualifications provided and at times, rewrote the national occupational standards (NOS) that underpinned qualifications. ‘Fit for employers purpose’ was the mantra otherwise the sector skills council could close their courses.

Creative Apprenticeships were launched during my time working at Creative & Cultural Skills. They are still going strong today. There are 1 and 2 year apprenticeships and they are partly funded by government, education & training providers and employers. The Jewellery Creative Apprenticeship was the first to be launched for craft, developed in partnership with The Goldsmiths Company.

My main task however, was to research the overall skills needs of 72 craft industries across the UK, in partnership with employers, and draft a ten year action plan. The Craft Blueprint was launched at the House of Lords in 2009. It is still a good read. Learning that glass and ceramics were becoming endangered crafts, that heritage crafts were vital for tourism (maintaining castles is a skill!) and that overall, craft contributed more than the financial services sector to the economy was fascinating.

Of course, the education and training landscape here is different but as with the UK, financial pressure and undervaluing creative skills has resulted in course closures in universities, polytechnics, and schools. Perhaps then, the sweeping Vocational Reform changes being rolled out offer an opportunity for creative skills to be revalued, particularly given that employers across all industries rate critical thinking, creativity and curiosity and communication and collaboration as essential skills for all employees to have?


Next year, 16 polytechnics will be merged into a single institute tasked with taking over responsibility for workplace training and apprenticeships from 11 industry training organisations (ITOs). It will be known as the NZ Institute of Skills and Technology and is due to open in April 2020. The changes are seen as a way to better connect industry and business training needs with education and programme development. Already, the new system has been welcomed by some as a way to ensure industry employers are actively informing the development of qualifications and training.

There are seven key changes outlined in the Reform of Vocational Education website and a handy video from the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins talking about the reasons behind the change.

The seven changes are: (click this link for more detail)

  1. Create Workforce Development Councils.
  2. Establish Regional Skills Leadership Groups.
  3. Establish Te Taumata Aronui. 
  4. Create a New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology.
  5. Shift the role of supporting workplace learning from ITOs to providers.  
  6. Establish Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs).
  7. Unify the vocational education funding system.
Last week, Prime Minsiter Jacinda Adern launched the new Vocational Excellence Awards. “For too long, trades and on-the-job skills training has played second fiddle in how we see success at school and later career choices. Going to University will always be a great way to further your career but vocational careers are equally as important, particularly given the huge skills shortages that exist across many industry sectors.”

Taranaki’s Western Institute of Technology chief executive John Snook said the changes were ‘the most significant move in the sector for a generation and would have an extraordinary flow-on effect’.

UCOL‘s chief executive Dr. Amanda Lynn said ‘It is clear that the Minister has listened to feedback during consultation and we are looking forward to participating in co-design and co-construction opportunities.’

Whitireia and WelTec chief executive Chris Gosling said ‘The decision to bring together off job and on job training in to an integrated system is particularly welcome and provides the best basis for ensuring our vocational training system can respond effectively and flexibly to our changing economy and evolving world of work.’

Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Chief Executive Tony Gray said ‘Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) provide a real opportunity to develop provision in our region and in collaboration with industry and other education partners both in NZ but also internationally.’

Students learning to use natural dyes with Birgit Moffatt.

Well, you could say very little, given Kāpiti has no polytechnic and little vocational training programmes, especially in the arts and creative industries. I suspect though, that the ripple effect could be beneficial and is therefore worthy of us talking about this and ensuring our collective voice is heard. We need to think about how we want to access skills training in Kāpiti in the longer term. How to develop career pathways, how to acquire and develop our creative skills.

In the meantime, we need to embrace the learning opportunities that established artists are providing, partly in response to the demise of adult education classes in recent years. One such artist is Birgit Moffatt, who offers regular workshops in shibori, natural dyeing (including eco printing) and flax weaving. “It excites me being able to share my knowledge, leaving a mark on students creative journey” says Birgit. “My goal is to inspire people through teaching and get inspired by them.” Birgit has delivered 17 workshops in Kapiti this year for various skill levels. Check out her Facebook page and website for more information and upcoming workshops.

Birgit Moffatt teaching students.

Finally, it would seem that my experience in the UK may yet be replicated here in New Zealand if Creative New Zealand’s submission on vocational reform is to be implemented. Key submission points:

1. Today, Creative New Zealand is not a funder or policy-maker for system-level education and training but we retain a strong interest as education and training as they provide the foundation for future artistic success. Our focus today, as described in our Statement of Intent, is to: Invest in the arts by providing financial assistance; develop the arts by helping arts organisations and individual artists and practitioners to develop their skills and capability; and to advocate for the arts.

2. A single, well-designed Industry Skills Body for the arts, cultural and creative sectors would also be likely to enhance the ability of the arts sector and education providers to provide a comprehensive set of training opportunities to the sector. Currently, two ITOs (Skills Active Aotearoa and ServiceIQ) provide only partial coverage to the arts sector. Despite ITOs being established in the early 1990s, full coverage of the training needed in the arts sector has not been achieved and remains incomplete through the existing ITO system.

Personally, I believe that if Creative New Zealand are investing upwards of $40 million each year into the arts sector (not to mention funding from other sources such as the Ministry for Arts, Culture & Heritage, economic development funding, philanthropic funding and corporate sponsorship) then we really are obliged to ensure that creative practitioners can access quality vocational training in the arts and creative industries. And as this is not Creative New Zealand’s remit, a viable, alternative governance and leadership option needs to be decided.

Given that Kāpiti (and Queenstown) have the third largest creative workforce in New Zealand (after Auckland and Wellington) we are in a strong position to advocate for greater access to vocational training in our region. Let’s converse about this more in the coming weeks and as always, please feel free to get in touch with me directly via the Kāpiti Arts & Creative Industries group – now with more than 370 members!