Opinion Piece: Josh Williams, Principal Consultant, Skills Consulting Group

There were some pretty important takeaways over the past couple of Friday nights in New Zealand, and I don’t just mean the fish and chips.

It was also when Education New Zealand, Te Pūkenga and Skills Consulting Group hosted an Asia-Pacific virtual conference on vocational education and training. Participants from 58 different countries joined together to discuss a range of perspectives on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems across, and beyond, the APAC region.


Because these are very interesting times for vocational education right now, both nationally and globally.  There’s COVID, of course, which has put skills and training top of mind for governments and the private sector as economies reshape the way people work and learn. Along with all the other supply chain challenges the pandemic has delivered, ‘shortage of available talent and skills’ tops the international risks in New Zealand’s ‘Mood of the Boardroom’ survey again this year, but it regularly topped the charts before COVID showed up.

So now, as borders start thinking about reopening, including for international education, is the time to think about how we can best improve capability and productivity, grow our skills, and upgrade our workforces.

Also in discussion was the education and workforce trends have been accelerated by the pandemic. It’s become evident which work can be done remotely – and which work can’t – and which population segments are privileged as a result. There’s a parallel disruption in vocational education about the kind of learning that can happen remotely and the learning that still can’t quite, even though the tech is getting better every day.

The Forum was particularly mind-blowing in that regard – with presentations from the likes of HP NZ’s Carl Hansen, and China’s GM of Education for JD Logistics, Guanghui Fan. My takeaway? An AI-driven future of work is here, and some models of education are looking seriously creaky by comparison.

So why is New Zealand leading the charge on the discussion around TVET across the APAC region?

It’s simple. Our education model is experiencing a period of change, not just from COVID-19, but also due to RoVE (Reform of Vocational Education).  At the headline level, RoVE has invited us to imagine a system of seamless lifelong upskilling between employers and education providers. That vision was repeated in a number of sessions, but the changes designed to deliver it are a multi-year work-in-progress, with operating and resourcing models still in development. None of that is surprising, of course, given the magnitude of structural change RoVE has undertaken. But given the acute skills and labour challenges besetting the economy right now we will need to strike a careful balance to make fit-for-purpose changes while continuing to support industry.

While introducing RoVE at the Forum, co-host Te Pūkenga’s keynote address from CEO Stephen Town and Education Minister, Chris Hipkins’, opening address highlighted how the wider TVET sector benefits from the strong reputation of New Zealand’s VET system – a reputation built on innovation, quality systems and know-how.  Our APAC neighbours are aware that New Zealand has a sophisticated and well-performing vocational system – we do a lot of things very well – and there is much we can offer, not least hosting events like this international Forum with a view of working together to find solutions to issues we all share.

One of the major themes to emerge was the critical role that employers, governments and TVET providers play in working together to make up an effective vocational system.  Essentially, that means building a common language to discuss and work together on skills issues. We hold a number of vocational education conferences, yes, but how often would the conference programme inspire busy employers to give up a day to hear a lot of ‘education speak’?  The APAC Forum struck a good balance in that regard, with business-to-business and government-to-government content streams.  Training, after all, encompasses much more than just what currently goes on the qualifications framework.

My final word, as at the Forum itself, needs to go to the learners.  The Forum assembled a panel of WorldSkills international competitors from Russia, Australia, Korea and Hong Kong.  These fabulous young people had an authentic round-table chat that all were privileged to witness. As champions, they spoke about the support they have received (or not received) for their vocational education and career decisions, along with the success they have experienced by transforming their skills and interests into fulfilling careers.

WorldSkills is a very big deal internationally – and would be good thing to beef up here as part of efforts to lift the perceptions of vocational education.  The panel’s moderator, Anna Prokopenya, hails from Russia and now makes fine pastries in Paris – edible delights that she pointed out can neither be made nor enjoyed on Zoom.  That was certainly pause for thought over my Friday night fish and chips.

Josh Williams is a Principal Consultant with Skills Consulting Group, which co-hosted the APAC TVET Forum along with Te Pūkenga and Education New Zealand.  The views expressed are his own.





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