Waihanga Ara Rau and Te Pūkenga forge strong partnership 07 August 2023 In an exclusive interview, Brian Dillon, the National Ako Network Director for Construction and Infrastructure at Te Pūkenga, shared insights into his background, aspirations, and vision for vocational education in the construction and infrastructure industry. The strong partnership between Waihanga Ara Rau and Te Pūkenga means the future of vocational education in New Zealand’s construction and infrastructure sector looks brighter than ever. Brian Dillon’s extensive industry experience in construction, combined with his passion for vocational education, positions him as a pivotal figure in the quest for better outcomes for learners and employers. Having served in various roles within the vocational education sector, Dillon’s appointment as the National Ako Network Director allows him to influence conversations across multiple stakeholders and environments. Reflecting on his motivation to join Te Pūkenga two months ago, Dillon says, “The time felt right to work closely with industry, iwi, and community to support better outcomes for learners and employers.” With the establishment of the Civil Infrastructure Academy, a prime example of collaborative efforts between Te Pūkenga and local schools, chambers of commerce, and civil construction companies, Dillon aims to expand on this model and foster more partnerships in the future. By engaging industry, iwi, and community stakeholders, he intends to encourage innovative thinking and bring forth new ideas to enhance vocational training. Dillon’s expertise and connections in the sector, combined with the Te Pūkenga commitment to working collaboratively, ensure that education remains closely aligned with real-world industry requirements. The ongoing communication and feedback loop between Waihanga Ara Rau and Te Pūkenga plays a critical role in ensuring education programmes are responsive to industry needs and trends. Speaking about the partnership with Waihanga Ara Rau, Dillon emphasised the need for a united front between the two entities. “We need to be aware of each other’s mahi, align work plans, and share our insights to respond timelier to industry needs,” he explained. “This strategic collaboration will lead to greater confidence from industry stakeholders in both organisations’ ability to understand and address their needs. “While our organisations have their own specific mandates, we are both working with the same companies, associations and industries. My vision is that industry recognises that while there are some differences in what we do, they see us as strongly connected. Ultimately, this is about industry having confidence that we properly understand their needs and that we can and will respond to them. This could be a qualification review, creating a micro-credential or delivering the training in new or different ways. Having industry alongside us and involved in discussions and decisions will be key. In turn, it should lead to better outcomes for ākonga (learners), employers and the wider industry.” Chief Executive, Waihanga Ara Rau, Philip Aldridge, says, “We strive to work together with Te Pūkenga to achieve great things for industry and learners alike. By bridging the gap between industry and education, we can effectively bring the voice of industry to the table, ensuring that learning programmes equip people with the relevant skills needed to excel in the ever-evolving workforce.” When asked what the key challenges are in the sector that need to be addressed through vocational education, Dillon shared, “There are opportunities to re-imagine how, when and where training and assessment can (and maybe should) occur, and we want to work with industry to support that. Current issues include workforce retention, more and better support for employers who train, and anticipating what skills will be needed for our future workforce. Bringing people and groups together to identify and then address issues collectively will be key.” With Brian Dillon’s forward-thinking leadership and the unwavering support of both Waihanga Ara Rau and Te Pūkenga, the future of vocational education in New Zealand’s construction and infrastructure sector will benefit immensely, creating exciting possibilities and opportunities for learners and employers alike.