Whanganui's economic development agency has welcomed the Government's new focus on trades and vocational education.

Hannah Kelly, of Whanganui & Partners, yesterday welcomed the passing of the Education Amendment Bill which includes establishing workforce development councils and centres of vocational excellence.

Under the bill the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology will bring together all 16 polytechnics and institutes of technology to provide, arrange and support vocational education and training across the country.

Kelly said it would be important that local businesses and industries work alongside education providers to ensure the programmes are relevant.

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"We're optimistic about the potential of the reform, as vocational education in New Zealand has not yet adapted to dramatically changing workplace needs and skills gaps," Kelly said.

"From our conversations with Whanganui employers skills gaps, especially for highly skilled roles, are a major issue keeping many of our businesses from expanding to their full potential. This means our residents are also kept from reaching their full potential.

"Our growing population means we have a pressing need for more training opportunities, especially in areas that speak to the strength of our economy.

"Our education providers are already contributing to the city and wider community. Private tertiary operators support specialised career pathways, while the Whanganui UCOL campus has a training legacy in the creative, healthcare and food spaces. The work and knowledge of Whanganui's high quality lecture staff has built successful programmes across a range of in-demand disciplines.

"We understand that the current funding model and structure has been holding back further expansion of programmes in Whanganui, which is another reason we're looking forward to the reform."

Kelly sees a great opportunity for Whanganui's UCOL campus, as part of the NZIST, to play an innovative role in creating bite-sized chunks of education and training to help raise the skill level of the existing workforce.

Whanganui & Partners will continue its close relationship with UCOL and businesses to ensure the upcoming reforms elevate the local campus.

The formation of the workforce development councils, as well as the first two centres of vocational excellence, was of particular interest. The workforce development councils will provide industry with greater leadership across vocational education and training, including for construction and infrastructure, and primary industries.

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Kelly said both sectors were relevant to Whanganui.