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Lack of enrolments place future of fencing NZQA courses at risk

I have been coordinating the Certificate in Fencing Level 3 and 4 courses for NorthTec for the last couple of years. As most of you know, the courses were reviewed and reinstated in 2018 in their current format.

In 2018 we saw 11 students go through the Level 3 course. COVID hindered several courses through 2020/2021, but we still had good numbers in 2022, and roughly 70 across the country went through the training in 2023. In Level 4 (which launched again last year) we have seen one course of 12 complete and the mid-year intake of 13 is near completion with similarly good results.

The feedback on Level 4 has been excellent and the tutor David Horner is a great asset to the industry, in that he understands how contractors think. Together we try and align the timings of the courses to what will work around people’s staff and businesses. This is also the same for Level 3, the tutors across the country are an asset to the industry.

In the last 12 months, I have been working with the online development team to integrate the Level 4 learning into an online system that will help aid and give the learner confidence that what they are doing is correct. This has been a huge undertaking, and it has led the way behind the scenes for other industries.

The fencing industry has lacked a form of continued recognised training. Yes, the Association has had its eggs in this basket for a very long time, but the implementation and execution of those things has never continually lined up.

When I was in the rural banking industry, I inherently saw the very people fencers work for, downgrading the trade as if anyone could do it. Comments like “It’s just fencing, we’ll do it ourselves”. It used to annoy me, because they would be better sticking to their knitting and sorting their feed and cashflow budgets, than fencing for three months on a job that could be done in two weeks by a professional.

The industry needs to be recognised as a trade by not only the people in it, but by any member of the public. Sure, within the industry, we can tell who is a good fencer and who is a rubbish one, just by looking at their work (and sometimes just by talking to them). I can’t fence to save my life, but I sure know what a good one looks like now after travelling the country looking at fences for days. This is what we want to get out to the general public, so they can make informed decisions and know that the contractors they are hiring have invested in training and business acumen. Not someone who bought a tractor and rammer and decides they’re a fencer. In shearing if you shear the skin of a sheep, ya mate next door kicks you up the jacksie and you get a tune up. Out in the back of beyond sometimes nobody sees a terrible fencing job until it falls apart and the neighbours have a stoush about stock getting out, or on a residential/lifestyle block the client wakes up every day to look out at their fence, with twisting rails or gaps in their palings the dog and cat can fit through. This is why the training and FCANZ Pathway go hand in hand.

Sure, some contractors and staff can complete these courses with their eyes closed. Do they?? No!! The tutors and I find ourselves dragging people along to get their work done before the end of the courses. There are students that are so diligent and have awesome time management, are great fencers and are the ones to showcase the industry. There are employers putting their staff through the course and I see the dedication and diligence they have in their businesses regarding training and health and safety – these are the companies we want showcasing the industry.

The courses are numbers-driven, bums on seats. Each fully enrolled student creates a funding mechanism that allows a course to be viable and enables us to pay for tutors and materials. The fee attributed to the learner from TEC is only generated once fully enrolled and attending. Attendance is a key factor. Each week, NorthTec are noting attendance; attendance to Zoom sessions, block courses, etc. If the attendance isn’t tracked, funding is queried. If someone doesn’t attend, their funding is pulled.

To keep these courses going, we need enrolments
If we don’t have enrolments, we have no funds to keep them going. There is only so much I can do. If the industry (THAT’S YOU, READING THIS) wants to be recognised and have NZQA backing, this is the only opportunity to maintain that. This is as close to an Apprenticeship as we will get at this stage, given the changes in the Tertiary sector with the new government and the changes to skills standards. We are setting things up in the way we provide these courses to hopefully align with an Apprenticeship when the time comes.

If you’re wanting training and to align this industry with other recognised trades like building and plumbing, get on board and get training. Otherwise, it will be lost, more than likely never to return.

Article written by Donna Upton
Course Co-ordinator,
NorthTec | Te Pukenga
and FCANZ Board Member

Published in WIRED Issue 72 / March 2024 by Fencing Contractors Association NZ

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