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Ghost of Taratahi emerges

The Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, which closed last year, was the type of institution impacted by the vocational educational reform announcement. PHOTO/FILE

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Reaction to the government’s vocational education reform announced on Friday has been swift, but the ghost of Taratahi Institute of Agriculture hangs over debate on the changes.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a new single national training entity, with a working title of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology but emphasised the need for a regional focus.

“The existing vocational training system is stretched and the skills shortage at crisis point,” Hipkins said.

“Nationwide, we need 3000 more apprentice electricians every year just to keep up with demand and yet this year, only a handful of young people from the [Wairarapa] region are training in this vital trade.

“We need to encourage young people and their whanau to value the trades, to get the correct NCEA credits needed to be taken on as an apprentice, and to make a career choice which will see them getting paid to learn instead of paying to learn.”

In conjunction with the government’s announcement, leaders of the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy have announced the formation of two groups dedicated to ensuring industry opportunities for Wairarapa people.

A vocational skills leadership group will work alongside government on implementation. A primary skills group, comprising Wairarapa farm employers, will be charged with helping fill the void left when the training centre closed.

Speaking on behalf of the WEDS governance group, Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson said the closure of Taratahi last year “made us all focus on the urgent need for primary sector skills training in Wairarapa to meet the needs of our rural economy”.

“However, the model we’re developing has a wider application to other critical skill gaps and our vocational skills leadership group will be proactively engaging with government in the coming months to ensure Wairarapa’s immediate and future skills needs are met.”

Dr Amanda Lynn, chief executive of UCOL, which has 440 students and 30 staff on campus in Masterton, was positive.

“It is clear that the minister has listened to feedback during consultation and we are looking forward to participating in co-design and co-construction opportunities.

“There are clear timeframes for a staged transition, providing some clarity for our staff and certainty for students.”

But Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott believes Taratahi should still be open to benefit from the changes.

He said the announcement showed Taratahi was “sacrificed without any alternative agricultural skills training in place”.

“Centralised ministry management of agricultural training is an incredibly bad idea. It will continue to impact negatively on the productivity of our regions and limit the opportunities for young people in Wairarapa.”

He said “diversity of opportunity” was as important in education as industry.

“A monolithic provider trying to be everything to everybody will not provide the responsiveness employers want or the flexibility our people need.

“In Wairarapa, and across the country, farmers are crying out for skilled workers now.

“Taratahi offered an agricultural gateway for enthusiastic students without an agricultural background as well as supporting the development of many young rural people.

“I maintain it was a huge oversight not to have kept Taratahi open.”

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