Northland's biggest tertiary education provider is hopeful the investment from Budget 2022 will play a key role in the region's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The unified funding of $266.9m over four years, plus $112.7m allocated to underpin the reform of vocational education across the country, will help ensure that NorthTec is well placed to support ākonga (students) to get the training opportunities they need to improve their lives, and those of their whānau, says Te Ahurei (Chief Executive) NorthTech Toa Faneva.
Faneva says skilled people, across all sectors, are desperately needed and this funding will strengthen the skilled workforce.
"The investment in work-based learning is critical to building the highly skilled workforce that Northland needs.
"Our region, like the rest of the country, is facing shortages in skilled tradespeople. The budget funding will support an increase in the number of trades apprentices, especially in construction and infrastructure, including the energy sector."
Faneva said the funding aligned with other priority training needs for the region including healthcare – particularly rural and Māori healthcare – and primary industries like agriculture.
"Increasing apprenticeships and training in all these sectors will be beneficial for individual learners, their employers, and our communities."
Faneva was confident the funding would enable the polytech to support priorities of equity and driving participation, delivering customised learning approaches that meet the needs of learners and trainees wherever they are.
"It enables us to assist more learners from underserved groups like Māori, Pasifika and people with disabilities to upskill through tertiary education.
"It will also help us to support hāpu and iwi in Te Tai Tokerau in the development of meaningful and innovative solutions to the needs of our communities."
Kelly-Anne Panapa's role as director Māori success and equity at NorthTec is to ensure a strategic approach is taken by the organisation to meet better outcomes for not just Māori students but to provide a wider equity lens.
Panapa's focus is to be cognisant of the role the system plays in a learner's life and minimise barriers for learners.
The polytech was taking a concerted systemic lens to address the issues, said Panapa.
"There are a lot of parts of vocational education reforms providing different expertise into some of the national issues around the impact of Covid-19 – like mental and financial wellbeing - and these add barriers to education."
Accessibility was one of the biggest barriers for Northland students, said Panapa.
"[In] the economic climate we are in education is seen as a bit of luxury.
"We have a far widespread geographical region, compounded by rurality and remoteness, and lots of these places we do not have a strong infrastructure in place.
"Anyone living in those rural areas, and if you add financial struggles to it, the layers of Covid, it makes it hard, particularly for Northland to access good education," Panapa said.
"One of the big drivers for the reforms is about lifting accessibility, particularly for our disabled learners."
During Panapa's road trip to different institutes and talks with students nationwide, she discovered learners experienced barriers at all stages of the system.
"Not everybody across the country is getting the same deal."
NorthTec had focused on teaming learners with mentors, and adopting the traditional Māori cultural philosophy and practice, Tuakana-Teina.
"We have a very real hapū, iwi, Māori community involvement throughout the region and there is good engagement between them and government agencies to meet the needs of communities."