What are Vocational Pathways?

Vocational Pathways provide structured ways for students to achieve National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The pathways identify a range of Achievement Standards and Unit Standards that prepare students for ongoing education and/or employment in the industry of their choice. It is intended that students will ask teachers or careers advisers for support in using Vocational Pathways to plan a course.

As of 2016, there are six colour coded Vocational Pathways: Primary Industries, Services Industries, Social and Community Services, Manufacturing and Technology, Construction and Infrastructure, and Creative Industries (see Figure 1 below). Each sector pathway was developed by a consortium made up of industry and education representatives, and coordinated by a Pathways Advisory Group, with an overarching working group drawing together the final decisions.

Figure 1: The Vocational Pathways Rosette

Vocational Pathways rosette

At NCEA Levels 1,2 and 3, relevant standards are identified as 'Recommended' or 'Sector related'.

  • Recommended standards represent useful foundation learning for each pathway. They are generally Achievement Standards aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.1 Many recommended standards appear in more than one of the various pathways.
  • Sector related standards are also recommended, but are more specific to the skills and experiences needed in the relevant industry setting. They are generally Unit Standards. 

Students can obtain a Vocational Pathways Award at NCEA Level 2 if their 80 NCEA Level 2 credits include 60 from the recommended pathway, of which 20 must be sector related standards. Figure 2 illustrates this visually:

Figure 2: Vocational Pathways Award criteria

Vocational pathways award criteria

Ministry of Education is now working with stakeholders to finalise what a Level 3 Vocational Pathways Award will look like.

The Youth Guarantee website hosts many useful tools and resources for students, whanau, schools, tertiary providers and employers, including:

  • lists of the recommended and sector related standards at NCEA Levels 1,2 and 3 across all pathways
  • the Profile Builder, into which students can enter the standards they are currently doing, or plan to do, and see how these fit into the six pathways
  • links through to the Occupational Outlook app which gives information about the types of jobs and opportunities available in the six industry sectors
  • links to assessment resources on Te Kete Ipurangi, and assessment support material on the NZQA website
  • guidance for educators on Vocational Pathways and how they can support contextualised learning
  • introductory material on Vocational Pathways for students and whanau
  • several videos, including videos of contextualised learning in practice for schools, and explanations of NCEA and pathway planning for students and whanau.

The Profile Builder is the primary tool for students to plan their programmes by entering standards they want to do in the future, or the standards offered within courses. Students are encouraged to use the Profile Builder with parents and whanau, teachers, careers advisers and others who support their learning. The Profile Builder can also be used by teachers and school leaders when designing programmes or courses or mapping existing options against the pathways.

Picture of a student doing woodwork

Intent of Vocational Pathways

Increasing the relevance of students' learning is central to Vocational Pathways. Evidence from New Zealand and overseas suggests that when students perceive their school-based learning to lack relevance, they can become disengaged from school entirely. Many New Zealand students who had left school at age 16 cited boredom as a major cause.2 In a survey of students in the USA who had left school early, over 80 percent said that having more authentic learning opportunities might have kept them in school.3

Vocational Pathways are intended to address these issues in two ways. First, students are able to use the pathways to see the links between what they are studying and careers in their field of interest. Second, Vocational Pathways encourage schools to provide authentic learning and assessment contexts that more closely resemble working life in the six industry sectors. The Ministry of Education has provided some real-life examples from schools that have used Vocational Pathways to provide contextualised learning - these are available on the Youth Guarantee website.

Another intended effect of Vocational Pathways is to promote equal status among different careers and learning areas. ERO has previously found a perception that curriculum innovations that "break away from traditional subject silos and teaching approaches may be seen as second-class compared to academic education.”4

However, Vocational Pathways include professional occupations alongside trades, hospitality, creative industry and information technology career opportunities. The mapping of all careers to Vocational Pathways is a signal that these are all worthwhile options for students. There are many pathways to success, and students should feel comfortable to pursue a career that aligns with their strengths and interests.