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Speech to the Industry Training Federation

Tēnā Koutou Katoa

Thank you Jenny for the introduction. Jenny is one of our newest MPs, but she is already emerging as a star performer. We are very proud to have her in caucus.

Thank you all for inviting me to speak today.

It’s a real privilege to address groups that are doing such vital work helping to give Kiwis the tools and skills they need to succeed.

Can I acknowledge Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson who is here today. Grant has been doing fantastic work leading our Future of Work Commission. I’m proud that Labour is one of only a small number of political parties in the developed world making this issue a top priority.

And to Chris Hipkins our Education Spokesperson who along with Jenny is leading the stream of work on education and training that is part of our Future of Work project.

And finally can I acknowledge Josh Williams, who is an outstanding Chief Executive of the ITF, and a powerful advocate for better workplace training.

Josh actually spoke at Labour’s recent Future of Work Conference, and you can’t help but be impressed with his understanding of the issues involved and where we need to go from here.

So Josh, if some of my approach today sounds a little familiar, please take it as a compliment.

It is a great pleasure to be here today. In a previous life, I had a lot to do with many ITOs, either making sure workers were well represented on them or through the oversight the TEC had of ITOs when I served on the board of that body. The role of ITOs is vital and I am personally committed to seeing them do great things for trainees and for industry.

We’ve been watching the ideas and discussions coming out of industry training organisations very closely, and through our Future of Work Commission we’ve been listening hard to the issues you’ve been raising.

I want to thank John Blakey, the former Chief Executive of Competenz who actually served on the external reference group for our Future of Work Commission, and was a powerful voice in helping to shape our thinking.

The Future of Work Commission is Labour’s framework to establish decent work, higher wages, a sustainable economy and a resilient workforce. 

Our final report will be released in November but today I want to focus on two important aspects of the Commission’s work, firstly the transition between school, training and work and secondly Labour’s Working Futures Plan, in particular how it relates to developing the apprenticeship system.

 Labour understands the major role industry training must play in helping us adapt to the changes to work that are on the horizon, and a role for ITOs in particular in these two important areas.

Underpinning our approach to the future of work is a value that is one of my personal driving beliefs.  That the government has a responsibility to ensure every citizen has the opportunity to earn a secure living for themselves and their families.

To do this, we must make sure that everyone has access to education and training, throughout their lives, that will give them the skills they need to get ahead in the modern working environment.

And that’s getting harder.

The nature of work is changing rapidly, the opportunities people have for work are changing, and the skills and abilities that prospective employers are looking for are changing.

This rapid change is driven by enormous technological advances. In some sectors, technology has destroyed the tryanny of distance, bringing our firms closer to their customers overseas, offering new channels of communication and new markets

This has made a huge difference in our daily lives, and it’s been great news for parts of our economy.

And new technology will only open more doors in the years to come

But with these opportunities come real challenges as well.

As President Obama said recently, technological change has the power to “broaden opportunity or widen inequality.”

For example, according to research by NZIER, nearly half of the jobs we rely on today will be gone within the next twenty years. Will the jobs be replaced with new, better jobs, or with a longer dole queue?

New technology comes with new benefits - of course it does. The question is whether that benefit reaches everyone, or leaves some people behind.

In Labour, we’re simply not going to accept a world where thousands of Kiwis are told:

“I’m sorry, there’s no place for you in this economy.”

We need to ensure that everyone who enters the workforce is equipped to make a contribution that is needed and valued and rewarded fairly.

Our current approach to education and training needs change if we are to meet these challenges.
A good example of where we need to change is the intense focus on meeting artificial assessment targets, such as the National Government’s target of getting 85% of students leaving school with NCEA level 2.  The focus for schools becomes reaching the target, and for the students the credits are king. And in the wake of this, the value of the learning for many diminishes. 

Arbitrary targets see the focus move to the numbers getting the qualification, not whether what students are learning is going to stand them in good stead.

Josh talks about this a lot, and I am sure you know the metaphor he uses.

He says that if the focus is simply on meeting a target for people getting NCEA level 2, it is like going to the supermarket and only caring that you fill up your trolley.

It doesn’t matter if it’s all full of toothbrushes, as long as it’s full, you have reached your target.

But, just because you’ve filled the trolley, doesn’t mean you’ve got everything you need for the week.

This isn’t just a problem in New Zealand.

International researchers McKinsey and Company surveyed 8000 employers, providers, and young people across the developed world.

What they found was that once they were in the job market, just 45% of people said they felt they’d made the right decisions about their study.

Only 42% of employers thought young people were coming into the workforce adequately prepared.

That’s just not good enough in a world where more and more people are going to be changing jobs and industries multiple times throughout their working lives. In many cases, an industry where someone may end up working might not even exist when they are eighteen.

We have an education and training system that is staffed by dedicated professionals. And for many young people it serves them well.  But for too many it is not meeting their needs, nor those of the community around them. And that often leads to people simply falling outside of the system.

There are a lot of statistics about the economy that are scary.  The fact that we have zero per person economic growth or that the dairy price is more than US$1000 a tonne below where it was predicted to be, is bad enough, but here I have the scariest statistic for our economy and society that you will hear all year.

Right now, in New Zealand, there are 87,200 young New Zealanders not in employment, education or training.
And before anyone says it has always been that way- that is 26500 more than eight years ago.

That is a group of young people larger than the population of Palmerston North who are drifting without a clear plan for the future.

According to the OECD, New Zealand has one of the worst rates of student retention of any developed country.

That isn’t just a ticking social timebomb, it’s an enormous waste of human potential.

If we want to compete in the 21st century economy, we simply cannot afford to waste our young people’s potential. They are our country’s greatest asset.

We’ve got to do better, and Labour has a plan to get us there.

We need an alternative approach. We need to make big changes.

Today, I want to lay out how Labour will tackle these challenges.

First, our very clear goal in government will be that every young person in New Zealand is earning or learning.

And they need an opportunity to learn, and to train and retrain, that lasts their whole lives, and that doesn’t end when they finish school.

That’s why as the first announcement from our Future of Work Commission in January I committed that Labour will introduce three years of free post-school education or training. 

This is part of our Working Futures package that is designed to ensure that across a person’s working life, they can train and retrain for free in a flexible way which suits their needs.

I want to be very clear that this policy is not just about university study. 

Quite the opposite in fact.  We want to increase the number of people undertaking trade and apprenticeship programmes, as well as developing entrepreneurial ideas.

Labour will deliver a ‘dole for the apprenticeship’ scheme to pay employers a subsidy equivalent to the dole to give them the confidence to invest in more young apprentices.

It’s why we’ll put the power of the government’s procurement programme to work, saying to major companies that it will be a requirement of being awarded government contracts that they take and train a cohort of apprentices or undertake other industry training.

Labour will also make apprenticeships a core part of our Kiwibuild policy that will see 100,000 affordable homes built over the next ten years.  The private sector developers who will undertake the building of these homes will be required to develop the next generation of tradespeople in order to be part of the scheme.

The next Labour Government is going to put more emphasis on workplace training, making more resources and support available for training that happens on the job.

This is an area where government needs to lead, and where we need the government, industry and education providers all rowing in the same direction.  ITOs need to play a major role in that partnership.

Labour will restore the skills leadership role to industry training organisations. For many of you this will make no difference at all as you have carried on despite the legislative change that took this role away.

When I look at what CareerForce has done in developing the Kaiāwhina Workforce Action Plan or the BCITO with its leadership on identifying the skills gap for the construction industry, I see skills leadership.

I am very conscious that ITOs have been through a huge period of change and restructuring.  While this has no doubt been difficult for many of you, we need to build on this, and involve you and your industries in an honest conversation about how we make our training system of the highest quality and relevance.

The second area I want to focus on today is the transition from school to further training and work.

In our consultations on the Future of Work this issue has been raised time and again by employers, training providers, teachers, parents and students.

Today, I am announcing that Labour in government will transform the way careers guidance and transitions work in our schools.

Careers advice and guidance is an important part of preparing the next generation for their future.

Done well, as it is in many places around New Zealand, it provides the information, support and experiences that unlock the potential of our young people.  It is seen as an integrated part of the journey of every student.

But in too many places it is still seen as an add-on, delivered by an overstretched teacher in a room at the end of the hall with some old posters and out of date pamphlets.

During our Future of Work consultations we were approached by a careers advisor from a large school of 700 pupils.  That person is a subject teacher who is given five hours a week of release time to do his career guidance work.

This is not fair on him, and it is letting those students down.  Especially the 60-70% of students who will not go on to university, but who have as much of a right and a need to be planning their post school life. 

We need to see the job of guiding our kids into great, well chosen careers as an integral part of our education system. It’s every bit as valuable as learning about classics or Pythagorean triples or onomatopoeia, and with Labour we’ll start treating it as valuable.

First, Labour will professionalise careers advice. That means in every high school we will have highly trained, skilled staff working with students from their first year at high school, working closely with them to guide them through making decisions about where they are heading and what they want to do in their lives.

Once fully rolled out, this announcement will provide $30 million a year of funding for professional careers advisors for schools.

But we won’t stop there.

We’ll integrate career guidance into the curriculum as well.

It won’t just be an optional extra, it will be a core part of the mission of our public schools.

Second, career guidance will be delivered as a partnership that actively links up schools, businesses and training providers so that young people can get hands-on experience and an understanding of the roles and industries they might want to one day be a part of.

The work that the Industry Training Federation has done to develop vocational pathways is an indicator of how this partnership can be shaped.

Those pathways documents provide direction.  What we want to do is work with you to bring them to life so that students have a real understanding of what is possible for them.

This means ITOs, businesses and training providers being in front of students on a regular basis, working with subject teachers to make careers advice matter every day.

To do this we need to have a range of flexible options that draw together the important school based learning with the experience of further training and work.

You will all be familiar with the Gateway programme initiated by the last Labour Government, which let students spend three days a week at school and two days getting hands on work experience in fields they’re interested in. That’s the kind of programme we will expand and roll out so it’s more available.

We also want to work more closely with groups like AgChallenge, a training provider in Whanganui, who have piloted the 3+2 programme which gives young people interested in agriculture two days a week at their training farm while they complete their core school work on the other three.

With more support, and more resources, these programmes can become a vital part of the pathway into work for more people than ever.

Under Labour, every student will have a personalised plan for their future in place that they develop through their schooling.

We want to work with you over the next year to fully develop these ideas, and others so that we will hit the ground running after the election.

We owe nothing less to our young people than the opportunity that this will provide.

In a future where rapidly changing technology is going to completely reshape our working lives, it’s more important than ever that we are committed to truly lifelong learning.

If we want every New Zealander to have a secure, fulfilling career, we need to improve the pipeline between learning and earning.

If we want to address the real problems we have with youth unemployment, we need a government committed to getting in the game and supporting apprenticeships.

If we want every New Zealander to succeed, we need to give them the tools to live up to their potential.

That’s what Labour’s plans for skills and training are about.

A new, stronger partnership between education providers, industry and an active government that will ensure every Kiwi has the opportunity to make the most of themselves.

Together, that’s what we can deliver.

Opportunity and security for every New Zealander in a changing world.

I look forward to working with all of you to make it happen,

Thank you.