The review currently under way of New Zealand's vocational education (ROVE) is hugely significant – a once in a generation shake-up.
While some of what is proposed is warranted, there is great risk that Hawke's Bay will lose our regional autonomy to meet social and economic needs. EIT will no longer have the agility to respond with training to fill workforce skills gaps.
Essentially one of the proposals out for consultation is to wrap all vocational training into a single national entity.
Our concern is that regions like Hawke's Bay will be much worse off as everything goes through a centralised body. Regional providers such as EIT would be hampered in our ability to move quickly to meet regional education and training needs.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins says one of his catalysts for change is that the current system isn't working. He cites the financial hardship and falling rolls of some of New Zealand's polytechnics. Let me state categorically, this isn't the case for EIT.
We are currently experiencing our strongest student enrolments ever (10,000 people last year) and have never made a financial operating loss in our 42-year existence.
In many ways I concur with the minister. New Zealand's vocational education model is somewhat broken, and at the very least could do with some serious tweaking. However, there is risk that proposals under consultation could make an even bigger mess.
It is true that as our country is facing some critical skill shortages while high economic growth continues, enrolments in tertiary providers remains static.
Many people are moving straight into employment on leaving school or their current role rather than investing time and money into building their skill sets, re-training or gaining a qualification that could set them up better for future earning potential.
Many are deciding on one or the other (study or work) when in fact, the two options are not and should not ever be mutually exclusive. In a fit-for-purpose tertiary system working and education and training should go hand in hand.
Some would say that fit-for-purpose system currently exists: the polytechnic sector handles the campus-based fulltime training and study while the industry training organisations (ITOs) handle in-work study provision.
The reality is there has never been a simple delineation for the training provider, let alone the employers and students/trainees that clearly need to be at the heart of this model.
By law ITOs are not allowed to deliver training. They must contract a tertiary provider to deliver this (which confuses employers and learners).
Polytechnics are increasingly delivering qualifications off-campus (either online or integrated within the workforce). The result is competition for the same students.
"Turf battles" often mean there are no winners and critical skills shortages do not get addressed.
In many ways I congratulate the minister for tackling this issue that no previous government has been bold enough to do.
Wrapping up all vocational training into a single entity could remove a lot of the unnecessary competition for students and confusion from employers (and students) that currently exists.
The huge downside for Hawke's Bay is potentially, we believe, a loss on autonomy and nimbleness in moving to respond to the skills and training needs of our region.
I have always been a strong advocate of allowing regions as much earned autonomy as possible. No one knows our own regional needs better than ourselves.
EIT has proven itself over 42 years. We are an anchor institution in this region, one that competently brings crucial and measurable benefits to our community.
If these proposed reforms to vocational education allow for any risk of regions like Hawke's Bay losing our regional autonomy to determine what is important for us, this will be a massive backwards step. Hawke's Bay's social and economic needs may no longer be met.
*Mark Oldershaw is deputy chief executive, Eastern Institute of Technology