A government-funded scheme designed to help people who lost their job because of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown to upskill and retrain has brought benefits to both students and SIT2LRN.
The Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund (TTAF) was revealed in July 2020 and is guaranteed until December 2022. Eight months on, the scheme is working well for SIT2LRN and delivering desired outcomes in the targeted programmes that qualify for the no-tuition-costs subsidy.
The focus of TTAF is to deploy job seekers into sectors predicted or known to have skill shortages, and where demand for graduates is expected to remain robust. Those in the workforce who found themselves unemployed as a result of the pandemic are able to retrain at minimal cost to themselves, and graduate with desired skills most suited to where job vacancies are likely to be. This could include sectors where skilled workers have been unable to enter New Zealand because of border closures.
Because the pandemic has had an effect on the workforce across the country, enrolment numbers at SIT2LRN have grown as a result of the retraining initiative. Part of this growth has been attributed to students being able to study with SIT2LRN from anywhere in New Zealand.
Aissa Querol-Santos, a programme manager for SIT2LRN horticulture courses, said TTAF had made a positive difference and boosted enrolment numbers in all horticulture programmes with some courses almost quadrupling in enrolments.
For example, the Level 3 Certificate in Horticulture (General), was up 285% between Intake 4, 2019 and Intake 4, 2020. The enrolment numbers spiked again at an even greater level for the first intake in 2021, seeing the highest number of enrolments ever for a single intake.
Aissa said the scheme offered students an amazing opportunity to upskill without incurring debt. It made a real difference for students when they were not worried about their finances and knew they would not need a student loan to be able to complete the course.
“Students are really pleased and excited when they find out [it’s TTAF], they just want to get started on their course,” she said.
A broad cross-section of students enrol in horticulture programmes, ranging from teenagers wanting to start their career and join the horticultural industry at entry level, through to those already in full-time employment who are following an interest to increase their knowledge and skills.
The 2020 satisfaction survey clearly shows SIT2LRN horticulture courses were highly regarded by students, with approval ratings ranging between 96.72% to 100%, Aissa said.
Not surprisingly, feedback was also enthusiastic, with one student commenting: “A well-collated course, which was informative and challenging, easy to follow course work which was methodical and made sense. Facilitator input was fantastic, very supportive and committed to myself as a student.”
Similarly, Programme Manager Dushani Ranasinghe said since the implementation of TTAF she had seen a significant increase in enrolments for the papers she oversees – New Zealand Certificates in Sustainable Primary Production (Level 4), and Land Based Sustainability Practices (Level 3).
Those seeking a career change had come from quite diverse industries and were now successfully transitioning into new employment options through their retraining, she said.
“TTAF funding has had a clear impact on student numbers and we have already started informing employers and local stakeholders about the funding. We’re anticipating a continued improvement in student numbers during 2021,” Dushani said.
One student who has taken advantage of TTAF is Christchurch-based Kaaren Van Dommelen, who is close to completing a New Zealand Certificate in Land Based Sustainable Practices (Level 3). A well-practiced distance learner, this is the third qualification she will have successfully completed through SIT2LRN.
Not having course fees was a key driver in signing up to the TTAF-funded programme, Kaaren said.
“It’s been really, really good being able to do this and not paying course fees.”
Kaaren is studying in preparation for a change she and her partner have been planning for some time. They are intending to start a small lifestyle block and live off-grid, aiming to become completely self-sufficient.
It had been beneficial finding out what works – but perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work, she said. For instance, she didn’t fully understand the importance of biodiversity until she started her study.
“Understanding sustainability, how soil gets depleted of nutrients is just one of the things I had no idea about until I did this course.
“I’m investing in my future – I can work full-time and gain all this knowledge.”
TTAF recipient Laura Woodcock, also from Christchurch, completed the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (General) Level 3 through SIT2LRN last year and is now studying the New Zealand Certificate in Organic Primary Production (Level 3).
Studying for both general interest and a future career, she said having no tuition fees under TTAF made all the difference.
“It creates a peace of mind and it enables me to achieve my goals sooner and get slightly more ahead in life.”
Completing the study while working full-time could be quite challenging, but it was totally doable, Laura said.
“It does require a lot of self-motivation and discipline but if it's something you want, then it's easily achievable and very rewarding.”
Laura is thankful she didn't lose her job because of Covid-19. “I'm blessed to have a job that I can apply my learning to - I'm upskilling for better opportunities and my study is setting me up to achieve my future goals sooner.”
Thanks to the nature of her study, she is able to apply the knowledge in her job at a plant nursery. She also has her own little garden at home which she uses her skills to improve.
“The biggest benefit I get from distance learning is being able to continue with my everyday life and job while fitting in study. It’s ideal if you’re unable to commit to study which requires on-site learning.”