The year 1981 was a big one. The Springboks toured and triggered an uprising. The Swingers were Counting the Beat and Kiri Te Kanawa sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.

The Mahon report into the Air New Zealand crash in Antarctica was released and "orchestrated litany of lies" became part of our history. The kohanga reo programme was established, the first ATM introduced and the first Sunday newspaper was published.

And in Hamilton, 16-year-old Kerre Woodham had been accredited UE and was looking for a job.

I really wanted to be a diplomat. I loved languages and I desperately wanted to travel the world but it would have meant a good degree and that would have meant years at university.


Given that I had already spent 16 years languishing in small town NZ, I had no time to waste.

I decided I would become a journalist. I was good at English and rubbish at the STEM subjects. I would be able to travel. And I liked the prospect of a licentious lifestyle. All the famous journalists I'd read about were hard-drinking whoremongers. For a Catholic schoolgirl, who was both virginal and teetotal and not by choice, wickedness was appealing.

So I applied to Auckland Polytech – and was turned down. I couldn't quite believe it. I got 93 per cent for English in School C! What more did they want? Apparently a bit of maturity and life experience – and good on them for demanding that.

So I applied to Wellington Polytech. I had to sit an exam along with hundreds of other hopefuls and, incredibly, I was selected in the 1982 intake.

It was jolly hard to get into a polytech course back in the day. Just as it was hard to get into uni. And that's the way it should be.

The shakeup of our polytechnics is long overdue. It is ludicrous to have a bums-on-seats model for funding. And in this day and age, when the world is moving faster than ever before, we can't have crusty old lecturers standing in front of a whiteboard, training the workers of tomorrow.

Snazzy corporates are taking kids straight out of school because they know three years at a tertiary institution, studying stuff that has been, not what is happening now, is going to put bright kids behind the eight ball.

I know how important it is to understand the past before you can forge the future. But when it comes to putting kids into jobs, we need the here and now, not what was happening 10, 20, 30 years ago.

I was talking with tradies on my radio show and I was stunned that there is still a perception that trades are inferior to a university degree. How is a half-arsed BA in media studies more helpful to the universe than a person who can build a home or wire a business or make a person free of pain through massage and manipulation?

Tradies I spoke to blamed our schools for not steering bright kids into trades and they said reforms weren't going far enough to deliver them the work-ready young people they need to sustain their businesses and indeed, the infrastructure of our country.

Chris Hipkins reformation is bold. It's necessary, not just because polytechs were in constant need of bail outs, but because we're not delivering the graduates that employers want.

Back in the day, I had to fight hard to get my place on a polytech course and it was a privilege to be selected. We should apply the same rigorous testing across all our tertiary providers. That way we deliver workers who can hit the ground running, whatever sector they're in, and it means we sort the wheat from the chaff. What's wrong with tertiary providers being elitist?