Simplifying the design of vocational qualifications

In 2020, NZQA engaged with key stakeholders and heard strong support for simplifying the design of vocational qualifications. These ideas were formally tested though consultation in 2021 with over 400 stakeholders providing feedback into this process. One aim was to bring industry, employers and iwi closer to the design of qualifications.

In September 2021, NZQA announced changes to the design of vocational qualifications. To enact the decisions, the Minister of Education has introduced legislative proposals to amend the Education and Training Act 2020

The decisions refer to changes to the design of “New Zealand” certificates and diplomas listed at levels 1-7 on the NZQF and include:

  • Skill standards will form the building blocks of provider programmes or of any ‘national curriculum’. Skill standards will be developed by WDCs in collaboration with industry and providers.
  • WDCs can determine – qualification by qualification – whether to enable multiple programmes against the New Zealand qualification or to use a ‘national curriculum’.
  • Micro-credentials can be developed by providers and WDCs, which providers can be accredited to deliver. Micro-credentials will be formally included on the renamed New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework.
  • Training schemes will be removed and renamed as micro-credentials.

For more information about our simplifying qualification consultation conducted in 2021, please visit our consultation resources page

The components of revised New Zealand qualifications will include: 

Qualifications will continue to set out a clear pathway to the level of knowledge, skills and attributes that learners will have achieved upon graduation. A qualification includes information about what further education and employment opportunities the qualification could lead to. 

Skill standards will be developed by WDCs in collaboration with industry and training providers. Skill standards will be a key building block of provider programmes or of any ‘national curriculum’.

Programmes will be developed by providers, endorsed by WDCs and approved by NZQA. 

A ‘national curriculum’ (working title) may be set by WDCs. Where a ‘national curriculum’ is in place, it will use skill standards and define the further context, structure and information needed for teaching and assessment, within a specific qualification. 

WDCs will facilitate a collaborative process so that a ‘national curriculum’ reflects the practical needs of an industry and the critical perspectives of educators. 

Micro-credentials will continue to certify achievement of a coherent set of skills and knowledge. They are smaller than a qualification and focus on skill development opportunities. They will be developed by WDCs or education providers. 

Training schemes will no longer be available. NZQA will work with providers to grandparent training schemes out of the system over time.

The following diagram helps explain how the different components work together (click here to see it full size (PNG, 97KB)).


Which organisations are affected by the changes underway?

The Education and Training Act 2020 gives workforce development councils broad direction to carry out their functions across vocational industries, encompassing almost all programmes and qualifications that have vocational aspects. The use of skill standards and ‘national curricula’, where they have been set, will apply across the sector.

Wānanga may choose whether to use skill standards, except where they are related to work-integrated learning. Wānanga may wish to be guided by skill standards for campus-based programmes but would maintain āhuatanga Māori and tikanga Māori in their approach.

For school-based vocational education training, skill standards will replace unit standards as the core components of vocational qualifications over time. It may take several years for a significant number of skill standards to be developed. In the meantime, unit standards will continue to count towards the credit requirements for NCEA at all levels, until the new skills standards have been formally set by WDCs.

There are a small number of sub-degree vocational qualifications offered by universities. Where skill standards and ‘national curricula’ have been set, and relate to those sub-degree vocational qualifications, they will be used by universities. 

To download the Reform of New Zealand qualifications (sub-degree vocational qualifications) and other credentials PDF click here (PDF, 240KB).

What is happening now?

With high level qualification arrangements now defined, NZQA is planning the approach to implementing the changes. This will include working closely with WDCs, education providers, wānanga and other key stakeholders to develop the detailed design, rules, and guidance as well as an approach to developing provider understanding and capability. 

NZQA has worked with key education stakeholders to progress the design and examples of skill standards and ‘national curricula’ and consulted on rules for the listing of skill standards and the recognition of ‘national curricula’ across September-October 2022.  

Over time, skill standards will replace unit standards as the building blocks of vocational qualifications. Arrangements for the transition to skill standards will be published as skill standards are developed over time. 

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