Center on International Education Benchmarking

New Zealand: Career and Technical Education

Overview | Instructional SystemsTeacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity | Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

System Structure

New Zealand has been committed to building a strong vocational education system for several decades. In 1992, the Industry Training Act established 39 Industry Training Organizations (ITO). ITOs are funded publicly, and provide training and leadership on training within their industries. ITOs provide on-the-job training and assess students based on standards and qualifications corresponding to the particular industry.  In 1995, New Zealand was one of the first in the world to establish a national qualifications framework to ensure consistency in occupational training. The qualifications are administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, defining the skills, knowledge and application demonstrated to complete specific qualifications. As a result, New Zealand’s vocational education system is highly integrated from secondary to tertiary.

Students can pursue vocational education in secondary school, either through individual courses or specially dedicated tracks. Secondary schools deliver an integrated curriculum, offering both academic and vocational courses.

In the upper division years of secondary education (Years 11-13) students may begin to specialize in vocational learning. As students progress through the three levels of the NCEA certificate, students may earn a certificate which recognizes achievement in a variety of industries and subjects. Examples of vocational certifications include the National Certificate of Tourism, the National Certificate in Computing, and the National Certificate of Motor Engineering.

Students do not necessarily have to choose between earning a vocational certificate or an academic certificate. For example, unit standards in the domain “generic computing” might be used towards a Level 2 NCEA certificate, as well as towards a National Certificate in Computing (Level 2).

In addition to National Certificates, students who have achieved at least an NCEA Level 2 certificate can pursue a Vocational Pathways Award. Vocational Pathways were launched in 2013 to offer additional options to students and support them in their transition from school to employment. Achieving a Vocational Pathways Award means that students have achieved the standard in a coherent program that aligns their skills with those that employers are looking for within six broad industry groups: Primary Industries, Manufacturing and Technology, Service Industries, Creative Industries, Social and Community Services, and Construction and Infrastructure.

In 2015, 29.4 percent of “school leavers” had achieved a Vocational Pathways Award. “School leavers” are those who have either completed compulsory education or have exited the education system for other reasons.

Students who focus on their vocational education in secondary school generally go on to attend an Institute of Technology or Polytechnic; the full-time degree students receive there is considered on par with a university degree. These institutions also offer a wide range of other courses, from post-graduate degrees to part-time certifications. Students in tertiary education can study vocational programs at 18 institutes of technology and polytechnics, 3 Māori tertiary institutions (wananga), and private training establishments. About half of all students in post-secondary education in 2016 were enrolled in these institutions; half were enrolled in universities.

Current Reforms

In the past few years, New Zealand has adopted a number of policies to strengthen career and technical education in order to reduce the upper secondary dropout rate. Collectively, these initiatives are known as the Youth Guarantee. Youth Guarantee initiatives, first introduced in 2010, are aimed at helping more students achieve NCEA Level 2 and improving the transition from school to further study, work or training for16 to 19-year-olds not in school or at risk of dropping out.

One initiative provides fees-free instruction at post-secondary institutions for students who have not yet attained a Level 2 on the NCEA. Under the program, students take part in full-time study that is vocationally focused. In 2017, 9,200 fees-free places were awarded at post-secondary institutions, wananga, and private establishments.

The initiative also established Trades Academies. Trades Academies focus on delivering trades and technology programs to secondary students based on partnerships between schools, post-secondary institutions, industry training organizations, and employers. Students in years 11 to 13, who are interested in a career in trades or technology, are able to combine study at a Trades Academy with studies towards their NCEA and a nationally transferable tertiary qualification Level 1, 2 or 3. There are currently 23 Trades Academies throughout the nation.

A Youth Guarantee evaluation found that while the program did increase the numbers of students attaining NCEA Level 2, there was limited evidence that those highest risk students were finding paths to further education and training.

In 2019, the Ministry proposed an overhaul of the VET system. Under its plan, the government would merge the 16 polytechnics into a single institution, the Institute of Skills and Technology. The goal of the reform is to make the system more financially viable and to provide economies of scale to enable the institutions to offer a broader range of programming. The proposal also called for strengthening the role of industry in setting skill standards and qualifications.

*18-24 year-olds not in education, employment or training
Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2018

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