2017 was a difficult year for the New Zealand industry training sector and Competenz was no exception. In a booming national economy employers consistently rated the lack of skilled workers as their biggest challenge, often looking to their ITO for guidance on their recruitment issues. Other challenges in the form of new technologies and new regulations meant that qualification content was always under pressure to remain current, so employees are equipped with skills relevant to the new requirements of their employers. The perceived lack of work readiness of school leavers continues to challenge employers, and with many complex and intertwined aspects at play no easy fix has yet been identified.
The year ahead could bring new challenges and opportunities brought about by the change in Government. Fees Free should attract more young learners into training, and increases to the minimum wage attempts to address a living wage and improve social outcomes. For these policies to have a positive net effect on the economy, increased investment by employers in developing better trained workforces is required. At Competenz we see ourselves as being a key facilitator of this critical economic driver, upskilling the New Zealand workforce to increase productivity and improve the standard of living of all Kiwis.
Over the past few years Competenz has changed its focus to better align itself with the needs of the 3,500 employers it interacts with, and the changing demands of the 26,000 learners it supports. Our activity supports the Tertiary Education Strategy, funding conditions of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) requirements. We accept that there are often situations where rapid technology change or training for task means that some of the most pragmatic training solutions are outside the established norm and do not attract TEC subsidy or support. Our employers are increasingly recognising and accepting this and work alongside Competenz to form partnerships that best meet their needs, often paying full training costs to achieve positive outcomes. We see this commercial opportunity becoming a greater part of the Competenz business in the future.
As a Board we ensure we reach into the regions as a part of our Board meeting programme. Attracting young people into our industries is a problem employers often share at these meetings. There’s a common feeling that the New Zealand education system does not deliver well in career and transition education, particularly in relation to non-university career options. We hear of school leavers drifting into unskilled work for a period of time before starting a career pathway alongside productive and purposeful structured training. A greater awareness of the apprenticeship opportunity and on-the-job learning has to become a priority if we are to ever address the skilled labour shortage that our employers say is their biggest problem. Our Got a Trade? Got it Made! annual campaign is an anchor for this approach and we will continue to advocate for greater acceptance of this issue. We believe teacher professional development should incorporate a greater understanding of all of the vocational opportunities their subjects lead to. In 2017 Competenz also focussed increased time and resources to addressing the needs of older workers and Māori and Pacific learners.
During the second half of 2017 we identified an issue with our learner database. A number of ineligible learners had been registered and had attracted industry training funds. Once discovered, Competenz worked with the TEC to address the issue. Ultimately however, this discovery contributed to a loss for the year of $1.9 million. The decisive way in which Chief Executive Fiona Kingsford addressed the issue was appreciated by the Board and endorsed by TEC and the internal systems audit that followed. Unfortunately these actions included some redundancies resulting from the restructure that was required to reposition Competenz for a strong start to 2018, as well as to address internal process and systems to ensure we meet expected, and rigorous, standards.
Despite this setback the Competenz education performance continued to improve with course completions up from 7,683 to 8,061 in 2017.
Our health and safety focus continues to be a high priority for the Board. We have learners in some high hazard industries so every effort we can make to set high standards and assist employers and learners to stay safe is encouraged. ATNZ, our assisted apprenticeship training associate, is more directly involved in this space and our support for their fine efforts is constant.
Throughout this year of change our staff have responded magnificently. Well lead by Fiona and her team, Competenz is collectively passionate about what we do and how we can help learners of all ages improve their skills and become more productive. We are equally passionate about enabling employers to remain competitive and sustainable and to continue to invest in growing and developing their staff. The Board would like to record their thanks for this dedication and effort and look forward to continuing to work together in 2018 to further advance the impact and support we can offer.
Similarly we have a Board that is passionate about industry training and how we can add value to the organisation through support and strategic direction. We are very conscious of the changing demands on employers and learners and endeavour to remain connected to those customer needs. We will continue to listen to our customers concerns and we commend their commitment to industry training, and thank them for their support.