Learner-Focused, Industry-Led, Government-Enabled

Excellence in Vocational Education is the standard for Food and Fibre CoVE

Excellence in vocational education is not only the goal, but the expectation for the Food and Fibre Sector.

The Food and Fibre Centre of Vocational Excellence (FFCoVE) was set up to provide cohesion across the sector with clearly defined learning pathways and career opportunities, but it also strives to achieve excellence for and by the Food and Fibre Sector when it comes to Vocational Education and Training

The CoVE was created after the Reform of Vocational Education (the RoVE), a major Government-led reform being implemented by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The main aim was to ensure that the sector received a steady stream of work-ready new entrants who had been trained at tertiary institutes or through the workplace based training system.

However, those who have been involved in the establishment of FFCoVe from the beginning believe that it is not simply a case of establishing a conveyor-belt of talent for the sector, but ensuring excellence is always the standard.

Erin Simpson, who is New Zealand Apple and Pear Capability Development Manager, was part of the Food and Fibre leadership group, which was at the coalface of forming the CoVE.

His view on offering learners a pathway into the sector is quite simple and based on his own experience.

“I’ve been a horticulturalist my whole working life and I didn’t come through the university route, but rather though Vocational Education. I started as a cadet and then worked my way through into the roles that I’ve had over the years. So that was a key determiner for me.”

Erin says he believes that the level of service from Vocational Education providers has probably not been where it should have in the last seven or eight years.

Something needed to change, and he believes the FFCoVE has gone a long way in getting all players in the sector on the same page to determine what is required in future workforces.

Erin says the main issue is that there has been no consistency between programmes delivering the qualifications that learners are seeking to gain.

“Although the qualification was the same, the student outcomes were very different. Our industry is growing at quite a rapid rate, but our people tend to move around quite a bit and take promotions in different regions. However, a lot of those people had the same qualifications, but their skill sets, and their competencies were quite different and that was a real issue for us.”

“For us as an industry, we really need to try to establish a national curriculum and that is what we have been working towards.”

For Erin it is a case of the demands and requirements of his industry changing.

“The way we grow our fruit now, the processes that we use are  very different than what they were even five years ago, let alone 10 years ago. The skills that are required now are very different from just being able to drive a tractor and being able to do a lot of that operational stuff. For people operating at level three and level four now, the competencies they need are very different.”

Cath Blake, the manager of Dairy Training Limited, a company of Dairy NZ, says the key thing for her is that the CoVE brings an ability to look across different industries.

“You can find opportunities for generic  training that are purposed for all the food and fibre sectors, for example, health and safety training or vehicle training or people leadership training, budgeting. There is lots of opportunities that I think the CoVE will bring that allows for that collaboration across sectors.”

Cath is a firm believer that the path to achieving vocational excellence requires training staff that have practical on-farm experience or practical industry experience.

“Farmers learn from stories and from real life scenarios and that’s how we deliver training,” says Cath.

Getting the right trainers and the right medium is important to Cath.

“I believe excellence is creating a workforce that is fully skilled to meet the needs of the industry.”

She says her industry is about “halfway” to meeting this goal.

“We’ve had some fantastic projects that have been supported by the CoVE that are really starting to give us information to improve what we do to use technology in different ways. We are moving at quite a fast pace.”

One of the projects that was worked on is the Technology Enabled Learning project, which was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and supported by the CoVE.

“We researched just what kind of technical barriers there were when using technology and online learning during and after COVID. The rural sector is really affected by connectivity and also often people don’t have the devices, so that was a fantastic project.”

“It’s changed the way we deliver online learning,” says Cath.

“The TEL project identified    important information to enable better delivery of online learning to replicate the outcomes of face to face learning, how you keep practical activities as part of the learning. Many of our learners are kinesthetic – they learn by doing things not just seeing. That’s a really hard thing to replicate online, so this project really helped us change what we do for better outcomes.”

A key factor was having “short learning bites” online and then sending the learners out to take photos of activities or examples of what they had done in a certain area.

“We’d send them off to take a photo of pasture cover – a paddock that had been grazed versus a paddock that was about to be grazed. They would bring that back to the online platform and we would then all discuss it.”

Even the choice of platform was discussed with Teams or Zoom being the preferred platforms. Other tricks included introducing virtual whiteboards and also setting up local hubs where people could get together.

“It allowed us to identify what regions had connectivity problems and then we got people  together at a local school or fire station where we knew there’d be connectivity. It was just something to bring them off the farm and not into a classroom but somewhere that allowed them to engage in online learning.”

“Peer to peer learning is a really important aspect of learning in our sector. We learn as much from each other as we do from the person at the front.

Bringing learners together is something Kathryn Koopmanschap, the Commercial and Relationship Manager at eCampus New Zealand, believes is important.

eCampus NZ, a division of Open Polytechnic, is helping the CoVe develop digital solutions to support work-integrated learning.

Kathryn, who is the key contact point between her organisation and the CoVE, says getting the blended aspect of learning right is an important part of the project.

“On the West Coast, there is a digital hub available to the farmers and we will be testing how much they make use of it and how much they’re able to do at the farm. We are trying to explore models that might work when there are connectivity issues.”

The hub is being set up as a “drop-in centre”, but with scheduled times and a coordinator who will not be teaching but will rather facilitate discussions related to the material.

Kathryn says the wider project brief is around work integrated learning and trying to identify the gaps.

“We can then look at how to solve them between formal learning through tertiary institutes and the informal learning that’s happening out on the farms or within the orchards.”

“It is a case of trying to bridge that gap where learners are doing a job, and need to be upskilled, but it isn’t feasible for them to sign up for a year-long course or attend a Polytech.”

“At the same time, the employers might not have the resources to make it happen on the farm the way that the ITO model works. It is about looking at different ways to provide that learning opportunity.”

Kathryn says there are two pilots underway involving eCampus NZ.

“One is a blended delivery of a course to enable farmers to develop a farm plan. We are mixing online delivery with a few face-to-face workshops, to see what support farmers need.”

“The other pilot involves a competency test that Dairy NZ’s assessor takes out to farms. We are working with them to convert it to something that’s on a tablet and figuring out what kind of support material we provide the employers for them to complete an initial assessment.”

She says this is where the CoVE has it “spot-on”.

“The CoVE’s focus is to say how can we get all parties working together to come up with innovative solutions in the vocational space that will really help our learners and our employers?”

She says vocational excellence is being very good at what you do, but “also having the mastery to know what we can push on further with to improve the vocation or the vocational training”.

An important part of the FFCoVE’s pursuit of excellence is the Taking Stock Literature Review, which began in mid-2021. The contract was awarded to Scarlatti Ltd, who in turn subcontracted Skills Consulting Group to deliver the literature review.

One of the objectives, through the review, is to establish an authoritative view of best practice in Vocational Education and Training (VET) delivery against which the current state can be compared and prepare this information for inclusion in a CoVE knowledge base. . Click here to go to the Literature Review https://foodandfibrecove.nz/knowledgebase/ffcove-kb/vocational-education/taking-stock-literature-review/

Josh Williams and Catherine Ang from Skills Consulting identified what works best around the world and then used Tomaševski’s“4As” framework (2001) as a structuring tool to populate a set of rubrics by which vocational excellence could be measured across the Food and Fibre Sector

Going forward, the rubrics have been integrated into a Vocational Education and Training Evaluation Framework, which is expected to be published later in 2022.

17 March 2022