Vocational Pathway Awards

What We Have Found

In 2019, nineteen percent of school leavers achieved NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathway Award.

Date Updated : August 2020

Indicator Description

Number of school leavers who achieved a Vocational Pathway Award.

Why This Is Important

Vocational Pathways help students see how their learning is valued in the real world by aligning standards that can be achieved through NCEA Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 with six industries. Vocational Pathways were developed to ensure students gain a better understanding of how their NCEA studies apply to the world of work, and the qualifications and skills required by industry.

Together with their NCEA level 2, students can achieve a Vocational Pathways Award. This signals that students have achieved NCEA level 2 standards that align with the knowledge and skills that employers are looking for in the six industries.

Developing and strengthening both general and vocational education at upper secondary level can make education more inclusive and appealing to individuals with different preferences and aptitudes. Vocational education is an attractive option for youth who are more interested in practical occupations and for those who want to enter the labour market earlier. Vocational education supports youth to reintegrate into a learning environment and develop skills that will increase their employability. (OECD, 2019).

Achieving a Vocational Pathways Award means that students have achieved the standard in a coherent programme that aligns their skills with those that employers are looking for within six broad industry groups:

  • Primary Industries
    This sector includes agriculture, horticulture, dairy manufacture, forestry, mining, the seafood industry, landscaping, equine industries and animal care.
  • Creative Industries
    The creative industries covers visual and performing arts, design, digital technologies, the film industry and events.
  • Manufacturing & Technology
    From hands-on production and assembly to cutting-edge research, from massive machines and busy production lines to individual crafts or computer design, this industry covers a whole range of working styles and options.
  • Social & Community Services
    This industry covers community and social services, defence, emergency services, healthcare and medicine, public sector, education, protection and security, and Whānau Ora.
  • Services Industries
    The service industry covers hospitality, travel and tourism, hair and beauty, retail, sports and recreation, events, journalism, advertising, administration, and much more.
  • Construction and Infrastructure
    Take pride in being a part of building, maintaining and repairing New Zealand from below the ground up.

Vocational Pathways are groupings of standards identified by Sector Consortia Groups as relevant to their respective industry group and classified as recommended or sector related.

To achieve a Vocational Pathways Award, a student must achieve NCEA Level 2 which includes literacy (10 credits) and numeracy (10 credits) at Level 1 or above and 60 NCEA Level 2 credits from the Recommended Assessment Standards for a Vocational Pathway, including 20 Level 2 credits from Sector-Related Standards.

How We Are Going

In 2019, 18.9% (11,651 students) of all school leavers attained NCEA Level 2 with one or more Vocational Pathway Awards. This is a decrease of 11.4 percentage points compared to 2018. This decrease was expected due to decisions made with industry to refine the Award criteria in 2018.

By award type, the majority of school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award had achieved a Service Industry Award (41.0%) or Creative Industries award (39.0%), this compares to 10.1% for Manufacturing and Technology, 7.7% for Construction and Infrastructure, 6.4% for Primary Industries, and 4.4% for Social and Community Services.

Figure 1: Distribution of Vocational Pathway Awards by Sector (2018 vs. 2019)


School Leavers with at least one Vocational Pathway Award2, by ethnicity

European/Pākeha school leavers are more likely to attain at least one Vocational Pathway Award, 21.1% in 2019, which was 5.0 percentage points higher than Asian school leavers (16.1%). The attainment rates for Pacific and Māori school leavers were 15.3% and 15.8% respectively.

Figure 2: Percentage of School Leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award (2019)

Distribution3 of Vocational Pathway Awards, by ethnicity

Service Industries and Creative Industries are the most common award type for all ethnic groups.  Of the school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award, the proportion with the Service Industries Award ranged from 55.2% (Pacific) to 33.3% (Asian). Creative Industries were the second most common award, but the pattern of distribution across ethnic groups was the inverse of that for Services Industries. The proportion of school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award, whose award was in Service Industries ranged from 43.5% (Asian) to 34.0% (Pacific).

Fewer awards were attained across the remaining categories, with 0.8% to 19.0% of school leavers across all ethnic groups. Notably Asian school leavers were more likely to attain a Manufacturing and Technology Award (19.0% of Asian school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award).  European/ Pākehā and Māori school leavers had high rate of attaining Primary Industries Awards (7.5% and 6.6% respectively). The ethnic distribution of Construction and Infrastructure and Social and Community Services awards was more even.

Figure 3: Distribution of Vocational Pathway Awards, by ethnicity (2019)

Māori Medium Education

Of the 15,104 Māori students who left school in 2019, 3.9% of them were learning in Māori Medium Education (MME) when they left school. This proportion decreased 0.4 percentage points in last year.

In 2019, 35.1% of Māori school leavers from MME attained NCEA Level 2 with one or more Vocational Pathway Awards, down 2.8 percentage points from 2018. The proportion of Māori school leavers from English Medium Education (EME) who achieved NCEA Level 2 with one or more Vocational Pathway Awards was down 7.6 percentage points from 2018 to 14.5%. The proportion of Māori school leavers attaining NCEA Level 2 with one or more Vocational Pathway Awards in MME has been higher than that for total school leavers since 2015. Māori school leavers from EME are more likely to be impacted by the requirement changes in vocational pathways.

Figure 4: Percentage of school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award by education type (2013-2019)

Of the Māori school leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award, learners5 in Māori Medium education (MME) have higher proportion of attainment of the Creative Industries Award. In 2019, 73.7% of Māori school leavers from MME had achieved a Creative Industries Award, compared to 34.7% of Māori school leavers from EME. However, Māori school leavers from EME have a higher proportion attaining in Service Industries Awards (50.6%), compared to Māori school leavers from MME (40.2%).

There were no Māori school leavers from MME with attainment of Social and Community Service Awards.

Figure 5: Distribution of Vocational Pathway Awards, by education type (2019)


Female school leavers achieved a Vocational Pathway Award (21.8%) at a rate 5.9 percentage points higher than male school leavers (15.9%).

Across all Vocational Pathway Award types there was a distinct gender difference in the type of award achieved.  A higher proportion of females than males attained a Vocational Pathway Award in Service Industries (50.2% compared to 28.6%), Creative Industries (42.9% compared to 33.9%), and Social & Community Services (6.7% compared to 1.3%).  A higher proportion of males than females with a Vocational Pathway Award achieved it in Manufacturing and Technology (21.2% compared to 2.1%), Construction and Infrastructure (15.2% of males compared to 2.2% of females), and Primary Industries (9.3% compared to 4.3%).

Figure 6: Distribution of Vocational Pathway Awards, by gender (2019)


A positive correlation can be seen between the socio-economic mix of the school the student attended and the percentage of school leavers achieving one or more Vocational Pathway Awards.

In 2019, 21.7% of students from schools in the highest deciles (deciles 9 and 10) who left school with NCEA Level 2 also have a Vocational Pathway Award. This was 8.4 percentage points higher than the lowest two deciles (13.3%). However, there is a great deal of variation among schools within each decile, with some schools in the lowest deciles having a greater proportion of students leaving school with a Vocational Pathway Award than some schools in the highest deciles.

Figure 7: Percentage of School Leavers with a Vocational Pathway Award, by decile (2019)


Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in:

The Ministry of Education has established an Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme to systematically identify, evaluate, analyse, synthesise and make accessible, relevant evidence linked to a range of learner outcomes. Please visit BES (Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis) Programme to find out more.


  1. Ethnicity is reported on the basis of total response. Total response ethnicity involves counting people who identify with more than one ethnic group in each of these ethnic groups. For the New Zealand total, individuals are counted only once.
  2. Individuals who have achieved more than one award are counted only once.
  3. The distribution analysis only includes school leavers with NCEA qualifications from schools that do not offer any alternative international assessments.
  4. Māori Medium Education is where students are taught all or some curriculum subjects in the Māori language for at least 51 percent of the time (Māori Language Immersion Levels 1-2).
  5. Learners included in learning areas analysis do not include school leavers with international qualifications, or leavers who attended schools where a mix of NCEA and International assessment were offered.

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