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Education reforms – build skills now

It’s now a year since the Government’s announcement on reforming vocational education – including the workplace training that is so important for landscape businesses – and while change is coming, it’s more important than ever not to wait before engaging in training.

Known as the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), the changes will mean a major shake-up, with the responsibilities of Industry Training Organisations, including Primary ITO, moving to a new nationwide New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST), standard-setting Workforce Development Councils (WDCs), and specialised Private Training Establishments.

It’s worth noting that the Government plans for it to take until 2023 for all the changes to come into effect.

Clearly upwards of three years is a long time in business, and in landscape training, it’s well and truly long enough to complete even a full apprenticeship.

At Primary ITO, industry leaders, including those in amenity horticulture, arboriculture and landscape construction, have given us a clear message – regardless of the Government’s education changes, the primary sector is stronger together when it comes to training.

Keeping these industries closely aligned with horticulture and agriculture was seen as an absolute must for training. Likewise, the industry leaders giving Primary ITO guidance are clear that they need control of the training on offer, as they know the skills they need. We agree!

It is critical that businesses don’t stand still during the education reforms. People should keep enrolling and keep training. The Government has guaranteed people will be able to complete their qualifications no matter what changes happen.

That’s why it is very much business as usual for learners and employers and, at Primary ITO, we’re encouraging businesses to carry on signing up their people for training. Many businesses are telling us how much they need skilled people. The broader primary sector needs tens of

thousands more skilled people, so training is imperative.

The changes do, however, give us a great opportunity to pause and consider what’s most important for learners and employers, and what will be needed to build the pipeline of skilled people. It also gives us the chance to move away from a competitive training environment between ITOs and polytechnic training providers, to a collaborative approach, where the institutions work together to give the best possible service and learning environment.

There is a lot more to building this education and training pipeline than setting the standards for qualifications and developing programmes to deliver them. We need parents and schools to see the benefits of a career in landscaping and the other sectors we work in, and have the pathways for them to enter the industry and get the skills they need.

Our Schools Team is working to develop clear pathways into the primary sector through the Trades Academy and Gateway programmes. The reforms present us the opportunity to give clarity to our high school students about their career options in the primary sector by showing the potential progression from certificate to post-graduate study – while in work.

Young people are particularly unsatisfied with jobs lacking career prospects or a focus on old-school rote learning. We are putting more efforts into new ways of learning, like blending the traditional with online.

We don’t – and won’t – need to wait to embrace these new technologies. We know learners want new ways of engaging. Anybody with a teenager or two in the house will understand that the smartphone is often much more appealing than a textbook or a lever-arch folder!

As well as the method of education delivery, we want to address the content. We do expect to see an increasing focus on learning specific skills to meet a need – “just-in -time” learning, as opposed to larger qualifications, which tend to include a great deal of “just-in-case” learning. The small “micro-credentials” that we’ve released and continue to develop are one way of meeting this need.

Horticulture is enormously diverse – from parks and gardens, to nursery production, vegetables, viticulture and more. What all these industries have in common is the need for smart, innovative people trained with the right skills.

I’ll be challenging the great team at Primary ITO to continue delivering skills solutions for industry in partnership with polytechnics and other providers, and we will continue to advocate strongly for landscaping and our other industries to ensure the education changes give the best possible outcome.

This article was written by Nigel Philpott, Chief Executive of Primary ITO.

Primary ITO offers landscaping apprenticeships and Landscaping Level 2, 3 and 4. For more information on landscape and other training, visit or call 0800 20 80 20.


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