Govt training schemes missing the mark

BRUCE ROBERTSON
Last updated 08:44 12/06/2012

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OPINION: The Government's industry skills training programme costs the taxpayer around $150 million a year.

One of this Government's key objectives in this area is to make sure we are getting the best results for students, taxpayers and the economy from this investment.

It's a laudable sentiment, particularly given the general concern about the rising number of Neets (people not in employment, education or training).

However, at a practical level, there seems to be a mismatch between what the Government wants to achieve from the policy and how it actually works in practice. This is a pity, because turning Neets into people who are employed and/or are in training has huge benefits for individuals and the New Zealand economy.

Skills training in the hospitality sector is an example of this mismatch. Not only is hospitality a key contributor to New Zealand's economically important tourism industry, but the sector is arguably New Zealand's largest first-time employer, representing a significant opportunity for the nation's Neets.

But the Government skills training policy for the hospitality sector is missing the mark for students, the sector and the wider economy.

First, there are too many qualifications and they are focused at the wrong levels. The Government through the Tertiary Education Commission is only prepared to fund large, national qualifications, which require significant commitment from hospitality operators to manage the assessment and paperwork needed to provide the credentials supporting national programmes.

These national programmes may be right for some of the big players in the hospitality sector, but they are of little relevance or value to the many small operators who represent the bulk of the sector and provide the most employment opportunities.

Most of these small operators are training their staff on all the jobs they have to do every day – carrying plates, taking orders, making coffee, making beds – but they are unable to provide official recognition or credentials for their staff. Furthermore, the national programmes involve large chunks of time, which have to be covered in some way by the smaller operator, and are at training levels 4 and 5, when the operator needs people at levels 2 and 3. Even staff nationally qualified to higher levels need further "on the job" training to meet the everyday requirements of the individual hospitality business.

Finally, there's a feeling that some national providers are focusing too much on the training needs of international students, because the providers need the additional income generated by overseas enrolments.

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So how can the hospitality training regime be made to work more effectively in the interests of students and the sector?

I think three things need to happen.

First, we need greater involvement of the hospitality sector in Government-funded national training programmes. If the programmes are not meeting industry needs then the taxpayer should not be funding them. This would stop the needless proliferation of qualifications of dubious merit and encourage a focus on fewer, more relevant qualifications.

Second, hospitality operators who are prepared to invest time and resources in providing "credentialised" training for their staff should have access to Government funding to recognise and recompensate them for their contribution to the training programmes.

Third, we need greater flexibility in training programmes. Shorter, more focused, bursts of training are better suited to smaller operators who have to balance the training needs of their staff with the service needs of their customers.

This is not rocket science, nor does it call for more money. All it does is better align the training with the needs of the sector.

If we get that right, we will be helping the Government meet its own goal of making sure the public investment in training in the hospitality sector best meets the needs of the industry and students and provides the best value for the taxpayer's dollar.

And it will also provide opportunities for all those Neets who would jump at the chance of training that leads to a real job in a sector that offers much in the way of personal career advancement. Laudable sentiments will become real results.

Bruce Robertson is chief executive of Hospitality New Zealand, the industry body representing 2400 hospitality businesses throughout the country.

- The Dominion Post

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