The Waikato is an innovative and resilient region, with wonderful businesses and workers.
However, with unemployment rates dropping to 3.9 per cent, we currently have a range of skills shortages, particularly in the trades sectors.
I'm proud to be part of Jacinda Ardern's Government, which is putting regional New Zealanders at the heart of our decision making and helping get more people into well-paid and high-skill jobs.
An important part of this is ensuring New Zealanders have the skills and training required by industry.
Institutions that provide these skills, like Wintec, are key to our identity and future success as a region.
I am a proud Wintec graduate, studying there between 2007 and 2009.
Upon forming Government in 2017, we soon realised that the future of a number of these important institutions was in jeopardy, with $53 million of losses occurred in the sector in 2017.
We then had to bail out four polytechs to the tune of $100 million, with others heading down the same track.
That's why we're taking action in our vocational education sector. If we didn't bring about changes, we would've risked losing some polytechnics altogether, which would be devastating for the regions of New Zealand.
Our plan will see a united sector, with our 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics operating as a single national campus network.
This is about making the system work more efficiently and more effectively as a whole.
We don't need to have 19 different qualifications and 19 different programmes to teach someone how to be a truck driver.
We don't need a plethora of qualifications and programmes around the country that are essentially delivering the same thing.
We're currently using valuable resources to re-invent the wheel up and down the country.
This Government is committed to preserving the strong regional campuses for current and future generations, and we're putting that commitment in law.
Regional Skills Leadership Groups will be the voice of our regions in the vocational education system, while the Workforce Development Councils will allow industry to have greater control.
It's important that current and future students of our institutions understand that they won't have their qualifications impacted by the changes.
Wintec chief executive David Christiansen has offered support for the planned reforms, noting that there will always be a Waikato identity in the vocational sector.
These changes are going to address the mismatch we're often seeing between what people are being taught, and what employers require.
They will help tackle these skills shortages, providing people with the opportunity to thrive in the workplace and earn a good living.
This Government is listening to employers, staff and students and making sure these changes are not rushed.
It's important to ensure continuity and a smooth transition.
Although these changes are crucial, it's important that we take our time to get such a big piece of work right the first time.
The changes will take three or four years to be fully under way.
The changes are extensive because they need to be. We must align the sector with the needs of businesses more closely.
We're making sure that New Zealanders have the tools they need to navigate the future of work and get into rewarding careers that they love.
I have spoken with a number of businesses in the trades sector, and this announcement has been very well received.
They welcome the opportunity to partner more closely with our learning institutions.
This Government is fixing the long term issues facing our country.
This is another part of our work to build the world's best education system for people of all ages that works for everyone.