The thing is, that for some types of training in New Zealand you can mostly just go and do it. If you want to be a teacher, a lawyer, a nurse, an artist, an actor, a writer, an engineer, an architect or a historian to give some examples, you go to University or Polytech and get the full training you need to at least be qualified. You might need a job to really learn the craft but you have the qualification you need. For middle class kids this is the normal path for training and usually works quite nicely. It is great as a parent to see your kid able to learn to do something they love and even though the job at the end is not guaranteed, you know they will be more employable for a better job at the end than they were at the beginning. In fact lots of these occupations have an over supply of trained people coming out of tertiary institutions, but still the education is available and if you want to do legal training, and you are aware the job market is not all it is cracked up to be, you might still choose to do it because things change, and you may have a range of ideas on how you are going to use the training. Not all training roads lead to Rome.
However if your kid wants to be a builder, a plumber, an electrician, an arborist, a plasterer, a mechanic, an upholsterer, a bus driver, a train driver, a bicycle mechanic or a welder then you have to hope like hell they fall into the training one way or another. Sure they can get into a “pre-training” course somewhere, maybe, but they can’t just choose to go and get the teaching they need, and even if it is their absolute passion, they may be plumb out of luck. The situation regarding this type of training in NZ represents not only another market failure but a story of a lost generation of opportunity. The dismantling of the previous training system with all its faults, and its replacement with the current voluntarist system within a deregulated labour market with no industry planning, no industry bargaining, weak worker voice, and labour market levers designed for a low cost business model has been a disaster which will have a legacy impact for at least two generations and maybe three if it is not fixed.
If the Christchurch rebuild tells us anything it is you can’t predict exactly what demand might be for any particular skill. The short and long term skills shortage lists for immigration also can be read as a legacy of bad training policy. There are jobs on that list that just shouldn’t be there and wouldn’t be there if the system was working. And the policy impacts on kids who leave school and don’t want to go to University but are left with no real options for decent training. The apprenticeship scheme has been resurrected but not nearly on the scale needed. When you meet a young person on an apprenticeship it is a big surprise and cause for celebration. I would love to know how many apprentiships and jobs with a decent training component are gained by word of mouth – someone who knows someone who gives someones kid a break – nothing wrong with that – unless you don’t know anyone! And even if for example we end up with an oversupply of builders – are these young people better or worse off for having this training? Things change! Skills are adaptable!
The industry training (ITO) system saw the state delegate the planning and purchasing of this training to employers organisations themselves. It was meant to also include unions and certainly there is usually a representative on each ITO but little effort is put into building real worker capacity to genuinely broker and lobby for genuine low threshold access to this type of training. Worker engagement, where it genuinely occurs is usually over the content and quality of the training rather than access. With the fragmentation of the labour market and little industry co-ordination at the employer level, and no framework to establish training obligations at all, the system hasn’t and wont work. The Government is restructuring the Industry Training (ITO) sector but it is not dealing with these issues and it is creating further fragmentation of the labour market at the same time and the results will be the same.
There is nothing wrong with strong employer/union participation in the planning and brokering of training, but it must be within a statutory framework that establishes the strong interest of the state in this area being successful. The Government (and I mean any Government) cannot sit back and just hope the system works. The mechanism for readily available training opportunities and the system for funding the training, must be comprehensive and requires Government attention.
The marvellous book I referred to in my last blog had examples of how Europe deals with training. It points out actually that workers in unionised plants are more likely to get access to continuing vocational training, but it does not provide similar evidence for the basic training opportunities. It gives a good further illustration of the benefits of industry level collective bargaining – workers are able to influence training outcomes and accommodate issues such as costs, leave etc within a bargaining framework which also protects employers from threats such as the poaching of trained staff by employers not investing in training. Discussions at the industry level occur within an industry bargaining framework including on continuing education. The training is also tied to pay and conditions and appears effective in many European countries to ensure workers and employers have the skills they need.
The book highlights another issue – impacting on Canterbury as we speak. Workers in insecure employment arrangements are far less likely to be given training opportunities. In some situations the person needing the skills is not the employer (labour hire) and in others the contracting model shifts the training responsibility to the worker themselves (think film industry here – why after all these years is WETA still applying to bring 500 workers per year into NZ rather than training them – maybe because they are contractors?). In Christchurch many of the large construction firms contracting for the work are then subcontracting it out – leaving those not really in a position to offer comprehensive training unable to meet demand. Through one set of eyes, it leaves business without the skilled workers they need. Through another set of eyes, thousands of young workers can’t get the training they want – unlike those that go to law school!
The book gives a number of examples of European state frameworks that ensure training opportunities. They include – compulsory payroll levies with a requirement, for example, that a percentage of workers in every business be engaged in recognised training, requirements that all under 18 year olds in the workforce be engaged for 40% of their time in training (with Govt support for wages and programmes), a right to a certain number of continuing training days per year per worker, negotiated pacts where training is exchanged for redundancy during quiet times and training charters at industry level between governments, unions and industry. This model continues to allow for the ITO type arrangement to plan and broker the training, but within a much more sure proof system that meets demand for training much more comprehensively.
I know a young man that wants to be an arborist. He did a pre-training programme and is hooked. He left school without qualifications and has made coffee in insecure jobs until discovering this passion. There seems to be a demand – power companies, councils and others advertising about the place. He can’t access full proper training. He is too old for a modern apprenticeship and they don’t seem on offer anyway. He is stuck – if he wanted to be a lawyer he could go off to university – if I knew someone who knew someone who cut him some slack – he might be lucky, but why is this so difficult?