Changes to Apprenticeships

The truth about vocational education reform by Warwick Quinn, Chief Executive, BCITO.

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

What is RoVE?

On 1 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 BCITO is one, and replace them with:

  1. A new national delivery agency with a working name of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST), to deliver all classroom, digital, and on-the-job learning. This is a merger of the sixteen Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics.
  2. 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 current ITO activities. 

Where is RoVE at?

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

One option is to have WDCs based on Vocational Pathways that were launched some years ago. As one of these vocational pathways is Construction and Infrastructure, and following recent discussions with the sector, there is good support for a Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council.

Once Minister Hipkins determines what coverage the WDCs will have (expected to be announced early December 2019) the industry will need to determine how it will be governed. Under current arrangements, construction and infrastructure activities span some five ITOs, and as WDCs will be industry-lead, the formation of a single Construction and Infrastructure WDC will be complex. We need to wait until the Minister announces the makeup and structure of the WDCs before we can be involved in helping them get set up. 

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 the BCITO 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. BCITO has been critical of the 28-year-old framework, saying it needs modernising so we can be more responsive to employer and learner needs.  

When you strip away all the noise relating to RoVE 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 all 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 construction…and we certainly don’t want that.

Myth # 1

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 the massive financial hole some of these institutions are in. I cannot tell you if that is true or not, but I can tell you the system was creaking regardless, and it is not a system that is suitable going forward long-term. Something had to change.

Myth # 2

Another myth is that because there is going to be a “megapoly” on-job learning (work-based learning) will be replaced by classroom learning. While one can understand how that is a natural thing to assume (as Polytechs predominantly undertake classroom learning), it is not so. 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-job, off-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

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 that one came from, but it is absolutely a false assumption. 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

We are also hearing stories of employers being told that “BCITO isn’t going to exist so there is no point in signing up with them”. This too implies that an apprentice won’t be able to complete the apprenticeship if they sign with BCITO. 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.

So, some very important 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 won’t be able to complete.
  5. There is no reason to not sign your apprentice up with BCITO.

If you have any questions about the reforms at all, please don’t hesitate to discuss them with your local BCITO Training Advisor.