Immigration continues to get in the way of the ECE teacher shortage

The ECC has been pushing for change in immigration policy to help solve the ECE teacher shortage for some time.

When Iain Lees-Galloway stood down, we wrote to Chris Faafoi, the newly minted Minister of Immigration, asking him to intervene in two areas:

  1. Exclude ECE teachers, who are listed on the skills shortage list, from the Auckland points policy; and
  2. Exclude ECE teachers from the new minimum salary threshold.

The short story is that the Minister wrote back to us on the 24th August saying no to both requests.

To give you some background on this ongoing saga, it took two years to get Immigration New Zealand to acknowledge there was an ECE teacher shortage, and that putting ECE teachers back on the skills shortage list was appropriate. That's where the bureaucratic fun and games started.

Immigration New Zealand told us they have revised their two skills shortage lists: a Regional Skills Shortage List and a Long-Term Skills Shortage List. Because the ECE teacher shortage was not likely to be a long-term phenomenon, ECE teachers were added to the Regional Skills Shortage List. Even though the ECE teacher shortage is experienced throughout the country. Reaching for the Nurofen yet?

When we first applied to Immigration New Zealand, we made two requests. Put ECE teachers back on the skills shortage list and exclude any job on that list (not just ECE teachers) from the Auckland Points Policy for permanent visas. After some prodding, we were told that the consideration of adding ECE teachers back onto the list would proceed, but take several months. The issue of the points policy, we were told, applied to a different policy team and a different policy review timetable. Really?

(I would add, only because it still gives me a little satisfaction, that up until that point our own Ministry of Education refused to accept there was an ECE teacher shortage. It was only after Immigration New Zealand did their own analysis and agreed there was a shortage that MoE changed their tune! Imagine if the two Ministries ever chose to work together to help solve this! Thanks guys.)

But now, let's examine the logic of it. We all know there is an ECE teacher shortage. Even MoE have come to accept that. So, if there is a shortage of a particular skill and a high demand for that skill across the country, and importing that skill is one of a number of solutions, then why impose policies that get in the way of that solution?

This lack of logic and refusing to remove the barriers to solving the shortage is our beef with Immigration New Zealand. They have successfully become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Back to the Minister's letter, which explains that both of our suggestions undermine the original intent of the policies. We'd argue the issue is with the policies being misguided, rather than suggestions to improve them. If excessive bureaucracy is stopping progress, it's our job to call it out.

We recognise that ECE teachers being added back to the skills shortage list, and overseas-trained ECE teachers coming to work in New Zealand are not the only solutions to the ECE teacher shortage. Teacher pay rates, attracting students into initial teacher education and improving the quality of that, amongst other things must also be addressed.

But we do need some qualified teachers from offshore, at least to address the worst examples of the shortage while centres are crying out for help now.

Of course, COVID came along and turned our world upside down a little. We know that the effect of COVID has impacted on the ECE teacher shortage, with increased numbers of qualified teachers seeking jobs, but we don't know the size of that impact yet.

In the meantime, we get to continue to enjoy Immigration New Zealand's continued procrastination and ambivalence toward a sensible and pragmatic solution. Clearly, policies rule the world and far be it for us mere mortals to seek to undermine them.

Despite the frustration, we will continue to push this issue. We think it makes sense to do this work now, even though immigration is paused, so we're best placed when the borders are open again.

We're always keen to hear from members on how the teacher shortage is affecting your centre. If you're having issues, or have seen a change through COVID, let me know.

Peter Reynolds, ECC CEO