Chris Hipkins denies saying polytechnic shakeup could cause 'significant' job losses

The Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, is denying he ever said polytechnic reforms could lead to a "significant number" of job losses. 

But when asked by Newshub Nation in April how many jobs could be lost, he said: "I'm not going to put a number on that, but it could well be a significant number."

National is attacking the Government's announcement that polytechnics will be merged into one entity called the Institute of Skills & Technology, claiming jobs will be lost.

In Parliament on Thursday, National's Dr Shane Reti questioned Hipkins about the reforms, and highlighted the comments made by Hipkins in the Newshub Nation interview.

The Education Minister denied saying the reforms could result in "significant" job losses for the polytechnic sector, telling Dr Reti: "That is not what I said."

"What I said was that there will be change; that the change will be well-managed, that there is not a target for job reductions, and in fact, we want to see this sector expand, which was not happening under the policies of the last government."

Hipkins has also confirmed councils will be set up to have oversight of all vocational education, which would replace the existing roles of industry training organisations (ITOs).

Dr Reti claimed that 1300 ITO staff could lose their jobs over the reforms, but he couldn't back-up it up, other than pointing to a news website where it was mentioned.

He told the Parliament the website was a Ministry of Education site but it's actually an independent news website.  

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub Nation a "significant number" of jobs could be lost over the reforms.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub Nation a "significant number" of jobs could be lost over the reforms. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

How did the industry react?

The Industry Training Federation (ITF) is sceptical about the Government's reforms, saying the changes need to be managed "very carefully".

Pointing to the planned replacement of ITOs with councils, ITF chief executive Josh Williams said ITOs supported over 50,000 apprentices and 88,000 industry trainees last year.

"We will work alongside the government and vocational providers through the next stages of these reforms to ensure industry continues to have a strong voice in training, and we should all be worried about anything that reduces that."

Local Government New Zealand is also concern about the reforms. The group's president, Dave Cull, said while a number of polytechnics were facing financial issues, a different approach could have been taken.

"Surely a better path forward would have been to focus on the underperformers, and then engage on a programme of wider reform."

He recognised that the Government was trying to find a solution for an industry struggling.

It has been forced to step in and bail several polytechnics out, including West Coast Polytechnic Tai Poutini, which received a $33 million bailout.

It was also estimated last year that 80 percent of polytechnics would be making a loss by 2022 on current enrolment figures.

Despite that, Cull said those failing institutes "represent only a small subset of the total sector".

Meanwhile the reforms have been welcomed by Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki, whose chief executive John Snook hailed it the "most significant move in the sector for a generation".

Details of the reforms can be read here.