Questions frequently asked about Vocational Pathways

What are Vocational Pathways?

Vocational Pathways help students figure out the skills they need to make a career doing something they enjoy. They help educators, families, whānau, and employers work in partnership with students, so students can build on their skills and talents to find work they have a passion for. 

The Vocational Pathways are a framework to guide young people through education to employment, by showing how their learning is relevant and how it can lead to future employment opportunities.

The Vocational Pathways divide the working world into six broad sectors, and link standards and qualifications to the sectors. This enables students to map where they are now and where they would like to be.

The six Vocational Pathways are:

Why were Vocational Pathways developed?

Vocational Pathways were developed to support young people in their transition from school to employment. We noticed these issues.

  • Employers, families, and whānau have some difficulty understanding NCEA.
  • Students engage more in their learning when they see its relevance to their lives.
  • 70% of learners in New Zealand do not go on to university, and most curriculum choices focus on the 30% that do.
  • Employers want to understand more about education, and vice versa, but the language used in both sectors does not always help the connection.

To address these concerns we decided that new options were required to prepare young people to become successful citizens. The Ministry of Education partnered with the Industry Training Federation to develop these options.

How were the Vocational Pathways developed?

The Vocational Pathways were developed through a partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Industry Training Federation.

Government agencies, the industry training sector, secondary and tertiary representatives, and industry and employer representatives worked together to develop the six Vocational Pathways to create a “learning to earning map” as the foundation of the journey from education to employment.

A sector consortia group was formed for each Vocational Pathway, and this was led by an ITO representative. This group, in consultation with their sectors and with broader education and employment agencies, decided which standards would be recognised as Recommended or Sector-Related. They wrote the descriptions for that sector and, in consultation with Careers NZ, decided on the jobs selected for that pathway.

Five Vocational Pathways for NCEA Levels 1 and 2 were launched in April 2013, with Creative Industries, the sixth pathway, launched in July 2014. The Level 3 Vocational Pathway was added in December 2015.

Who are the Vocational Pathways for?

Students, family and whānau: Vocational Pathways are for students, family, and whānau to map their continuous journey of learning and earning. Using the Vocational Pathways they can:

  • identify pathways to achieve the skills and competencies valued by employers
  • find out their job or career options
  • find out which standards are valued by employers within each pathway
  • build their own Vocational Profile to plan and track their achievement
  • show how they are progressing towards achieving NCEA Level 2
  • identify what they want to be, and plan how they can achieve it
  • use the Levels 3–6 qualifications and employment pathways map to help plan their next steps.

Educators: Vocational Pathways assist educators to plan, design, and deliver learning programmes that provide students with the foundation skills identified by employers as essential in six broad sectors of industry. They also support the development of competencies valued in general education. As well, Vocational Pathways provide educators with accurate information to help students develop their own pathway directions.

  • Manufacturing and Technology
  • Construction and Infrastructure
  • Primary Industries
  • Social and Community Services
  • Services Industries
  • Creative Industries

What is the benefit of gaining NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathways Award? What is the purpose of the Vocational Pathways Award and profile?

  • The Award helps employers to more easily assess how potential employees’ skills align with their industry requirements.
  • The Award helps young people to see where the skills and knowledge they have gained are valued in jobs, tertiary courses, and possible careers.
  • The Award helps parents, families, whānau, and aiga to see where the skills and knowledge their children have gained are valued in jobs, tertiary courses, and possible careers.

Young people can access their Record of Achievement by logging into NZQA, and they can show their individual profiles to potential employers.

An individual profile looks like this:

NZQA Record of Achievement

The Vocational Pathways Award on this Record of Achievement shows that the learner has achieved:

  • NCEA Literacy
  • NCEA Numeracy
  • NCEA Level 2
  • A Vocational Pathways Award in two pathways – Creative Industries and Services Industries.

How do students get a Vocational Pathways Award?

To achieve a Vocational Pathways Award, students must first gain NCEA Level 2, which is 60 credits from Level 2 and 20 credits from any other level – 80 credits in total. 10 of these 80 credits must satisfy the literacy requirements, and 10 of these 80 credits must satisfy the numeracy requirements.

To get a Vocational Pathways Award, a minimum of 20 Level 2 credits must be from Sector-Related standards, with the remaining from Recommended standards, to make up a total of 60 pathway credits.

The following diagram shows this relationship: 

NCEA graphic update

The Vocational Pathways Award(s) will show on a student’s NZQA Record of Achievement. This is a real advantage when young people look for work and training opportunities in a sector that is highlighted in their award. 

What is the difference between Sector-Related and Recommended Standards at Level 2?

All Level 1 standards and Level 3 standards and qualifications mapped to Vocational Pathways are recommended.

At Level 2 there is an additional category due to the Vocational Pathways Award. Some Recommended standards are also known as Sector-Related. These are the standards that most closely align to a particular Vocational Pathway and require development of skills from, or direct experience in, an industry setting.

To gain NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathways Award, 60 Level 2 credits are required from the selection of standards of at least one Vocational Pathway. Of the 60 credits, at least 20 credits must be from the Sector-Related standards.

What is the Profile Builder used for?

The Profile Builder helps young people explore their study options. By inputting the standards a student may achieve from the programme they are undertaking or thinking of doing, students can see what pathway they are heading along and think about where they would like to go.

Educators can also use the tool to plan programmes that align to Vocational Pathways and support young people to achieve a Vocational Pathways Award.

For more information, check out The Profile Builder page.

How often are the Vocational Pathways updated?

The Vocational Pathways are updated on a yearly basis, to show the standards and qualifications that are expiring and when they will no longer count towards a Vocational Pathways Award, and to show newly registered standards and qualifications mapped to Vocational Pathways. The annual maintenance process is described in more detail here.

What are the Level 3 Vocational Pathways?

The Level 3 Vocational Pathways are a critical bridge between school and tertiary study or training. They help students:

  • make informed choices about their study options for NCEA Level 3, related to the type of work or career they wish to pursue
  • who return to school, but are not on track to achieve NCEA Level 3, to make informed choices about their next steps
  • think about the links between more generic school-based education at Level 3 and more specific vocational qualifications at Level 3 and how these may be blended to achieve an NCEA Level 3 that supports their pathway
  • who do not intend to return to school to make informed choices about their next steps into work and further study or training
  • with information and guidance that supports Māori and Pacific students to make well-informed decisions about their next steps
  • who have achieved Level 2, to be well-informed about the advantages and disadvantages of returning to school
  • studying towards NCEA Level 3, but not intending to go to tertiary study, with clearer options
  • studying towards NCEA Level 3 and intending to go to tertiary study, with clearer options.

Level 3 Achievement Standards and current local, national and New Zealand qualifications have been mapped to Vocational Pathways to provide students with an ongoing pathway, aligned with what is currently available. Most local and national qualifications are in the process of being phased out.

The Ministry are working with NZQA to establish how achievement in Vocational Pathways at Level 3 will be recognised in a student’s Record of Achievement.

What is the FindMyPath tool?

The FindMyPath tool is an online tool that can be used to help plan employment and qualification pathways. It is suitable for people of all ages who are interested in exploring study options and the jobs available as you progress from Level 3 qualifications onwards. The tool enables you to:

  • search for jobs
  • explore qualifications
  • identify next steps using current qualifications or jobs
  • explore the Vocational Pathways
  • identify appropriate entry and exit points across different levels of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework

See http://youthguarantee.net.nz/resources/mapping-tool

Questions frequently asked about Vocational Pathways by students, parents, and whānau

If I want to do a diploma or a degree, can I still get a Vocational Pathways Award?

Yes, it is possible to gain a University Entrance Award in all 6 Vocational Pathways. You need to check with your teacher or tutor that this option has been made available in the course they offer. Check that:

  • your learning programme has the right standards to achieve a Vocational Pathways Award and meet Level 3 subject requirements
  • there are sufficient achievement standards available in the subjects you are doing at Level 2 for you to achieve in these with sufficient strength to pass the subjects that you need at Level 3 to progress to diploma or degree study
  • your Level 2 and Level 3 courses satisfy the specific entry requirements for entry to specialised degrees at University.

NZQA: University Entrance requirements

Can I get NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathways Award, and gain a Course Endorsement at the same time?

Yes. Check the following with the teacher or tutor.

You will need to make sure there are sufficient achievement standards available in the course to be able to access a course endorsement. To get an NCEA Level 2 Course Endorsement you need to achieve 14 or more credits at merit or excellence in a course that the school and/or tertiary institute provides. (Note: While there are some unit standards with merit and excellence endorsement, few of these are being used in trades academies.)

Note: At least 3 of these credits for Course Endorsement need to be from externally assessed standards, and at least 3 credits from internally assessed standards.

NZQA: Course endorsement requirements

Note: Different endorsement rules apply for physical education, religious studies, and Level 3 visual arts subjects.

For detailed information on these rules, watch the video: Course endorsement: Physical Education, Religious Studies and Level 3 Visual Arts

Can I get NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathways Award, and gain a Certificate Endorsement at the same time? 

Yes. Check the following with the teacher or tutor.

You will need to make sure there are sufficient achievement standards available in the course to be able to access a certificate endorsement.

To get NCEA Level 2 with a Certificate Endorsed with Excellence, you need to gain at least 50 credits at excellence from your Level 2 achievement standards.

To get an NCEA Level 2 with a Certificate Endorsed with Merit, you need to gain at least 50 credits at merit from your Level 2 achievement standards.

To also achieve a Vocational Pathways Award, you need to make sure there are sufficient Recommended and Sector-Related standards in your programme.

NZQA: Course endorsement requirements

If I don't get a Vocational Pathways Award within one year, can I get it the next year if I continue my Level 2 studies?

Yes, if you are still working towards gaining NCEA Level 2.

What happens if my school or institute doesn't offer the standards I am interested in?


We suggest that in the first instance you discuss with your school and/or tertiary provider the pathway(s) you would like to explore and build your learning programme together. There may be different providers who can provide part or all the learning programme you need for your chosen pathway.

How do I get started?

http://www.careers.govt.nz can help you to start thinking about and planning what you want to do now and in the future.

http://youthguarantee.net.nz can help you to plan and build your personal vocational profile from your existing results or plan your pathway. It’s easy to follow the instructions online.