Jacinda Ardern's statement today that there will be an announcement next week on vocational education was perhaps not the best centrepiece for the Prime Minister's State-of the Nation speech.

It has allowed National to fill the vacuum with fearful scenarios of a "Venezuelan-style" system of nationalisation and massive job losses – which Ardern denies.

(Polytechnics and institutes of technology are already "nationalised" – they are part of the state education system.)

But while having a pre-announcement is questionable, the need for reform is undisputed.


As Bridges should know from his recent experience in government, they are part of a failing part of the education system that is in danger of collapsing altogether without some serious attention.

The Government last year paid out $98 million in bailouts to Unitec in Auckland, Whitirea in Porirua and Tai Poutini on the West Coast, the effect of which is to undermine confidence in the system and steer students away.

Institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) have already undergone some rationalisation, with 16 now operational from 30.

But they have a lumpy existence, with low enrolments when the economy is booming and school leavers going straight into jobs, and high enrolments when the economy slows down.

More importantly for Ardern's business audience in Auckland is the imperative that the reforms to be unveiled next week inject a greater coherence between industry training organisations and the polytechs and technical institutes in their regions.

With a population of only 4.8 million, New Zealand cannot afford to run 16 polytechs doing similar things and not being nimble enough to respond to rapidly changing demands for skills in a changing economy.

With the advances of distance learning, a reformed network is clearly demanded, despite National's bid to queer the pitch.

Ardern's State of the Nation speech last year was held in St Peter's church on Willis St, Wellington.


It was the day before the Government's first 100 days was up and the theme was child poverty and the announcement was to set three 10-year targets under the Child Poverty Reduction Bill.

Ardern's pitch to a business audience this year was on both the domestic front – on vocational training – and the international front.

She attempted to reassure them that the Government is intent on broadening export markets and reducing barriers to access in order to weather the headwinds from a global economic slowdown in growth.

The contrast with her State of the Nation speech last year was perhaps a move to recognise the reality that her government's social ambitions will remain unfulfilled without a thriving and growing economy.