Shane Culham on proposed vocational education reforms: ''Apprentices won't be fit for purpose and training them will be hugely expensive.''

A Northland industry boss says a proposed Government-level overhaul to on-the-job training could spell disaster for apprenticeships.

Culham Engineering chairman Shane Culham said the planned reforms were likely to see apprenticeships based on specialised industry training give way to the recruitment of qualified workers from overseas.

Culham said the proposed polytechnic and training reforms ignored the value of local industry and employers, and could distance training from the workplace.

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Education Minister Chris Hipkins' Reform of Vocational Education would replace Industry Training Organisation (ITO) apprentice schemes with a single entity delivering all vocational training for every industry.

Hipkins wants Industry Training Providers (ITPs), including polytechs, to merge into the one-stop shop New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. This would replace all 11 existing ITOs currently handling on-the-job apprentice training.

''It's going to deconstruct decades of collaboration and relationships, disadvantaging the region already high in unemployment. It's a potential disaster,'' Culham said.

Grant Klinkum, of the Education Ministry's tertiary achievement office, said the proposed reforms would give industry a stronger voice in vocational education, not the opposite.

''Industry skill bodies would be responsible for understanding current and future skill needs and ensuring that appropriate qualifications and standards are developed in response to those needs. They would also influence funding decisions by the Tertiary Education Commission,'' Klinkum said.

The reforms would remove unnecessary duplication and competition between the provider (ITP) and organising (ITO) sectors.

''Workplace training would be supported by tertiary education providers, including the proposed New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.

''This would involve working with employers, trainees and apprentices in the workplace, just as industry training organisations do now.''

Klinkum said the Government wanted to create better connections between what is taught in the classroom and what is needed in the workplace.

''For Northland, the intention is to better align vocational education to regional economic development that meets the actual demands of local industry.''

Nothing in the reform proposals would stop employers training apprentices or should discourage them from doing so, he said.

Whangārei MP Shane Reti, spokesman for National's Tertiary Education portfolio, responsible for industry training, polytechnics, universities and wananga, also believes the changes would take a heavy toll on apprenticeships.

He said the reforms were targeting the wrong tertiary sector.

''What is the Minister trying to fix? Polytechnics are the sector that is struggling and the minister is using industry training and apprentices as the band aid,'' Reti said.

Culham Engineering has run a apprentice training programme for 60 years and produced over 600 apprentices.

The Whangārei-based company - with 450 staff in Whangarei, Auckland, Tokoroa and Kawerau - currently has 34 apprentices.

The company works closely with local high schools to give school leavers the opportunity of industry-based training and a sound career path, Culham said.

"We believe there needs to be a greater focus on the opportunity for all regions to work closely with their schools, ITOs and local community to develop pathways directly into apprenticeships, like we do.

"We have a partnership with Auckland-based ITO, Competenz, which enables us to offer our apprentices training through our own internal block course that meets industry standards.

"Our tradespeople leave their apprenticeship with usable, industry-specific skills, and a good job at the end of it. By replacing industry-based training programmes with a single, bureaucratic government body we will lose the ability to train quality apprentices to the standard required by our industry.

''Put simply, apprentices won't be fit for purpose and training them will be hugely expensive.''

Culham said the need to improve some aspects of vocational education delivery should not mean demolishing and rebuilding an entire system.

The system was weakest at the government agency level, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), not the workshop level, he said.

Reti predicts 1000 job losses if apprentices' training goes back to classroom-based polytech learning.

Currently, 140,000 people are engaged in apprenticeships or other on-the-job training in New Zealand, and 110,000 are enrolled in polytechs.

But Klinkum said no number has been put on possible changes to ITO and ITP workforces at this stage and, with the proposals not yet finalised, ''it would irresponsible to do so''.

''However, it is anticipated that tertiary providers would need many more staff to support on-the-job training.''

Around 2400 submissions have been received about the Reform of Vocational Education proposals, along with feedback through nearly 200 meetings attended by more than 5000 people. Consultation closed on April 5.

The final recommendations will be presented to Cabinet for a decision by mid-2019.