Blue Tomorrow brings commercial collaboration to education

A recent collaboration between education providers and New Zealand’s marine industry has found the blue economy could become a real selling point for developing the maritime workforce and attracting international students to New Zealand.

Blue Tomorrow was developed as a pilot online learning course exploring blue economy challenges and opportunities, with a uniquely New Zealand lens. It tested the growing market for cause-led learning, whereby learners are increasingly seeking careers that align with their values and have a positive impact on the environment and society.

“Blue Tomorrow has flipped the tertiary learning model on its head, leading with a global vision for ocean health to introduce learners to a range of exciting career options, and attract them to potential New Zealand learning pathways,” says Tim Brown from Education New Zealand / Manapou ki te Ao.

One of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand’s ocean-based industries is how to support and develop current talent, while also building a diverse workforce for the future. The blue economy is an area of huge job growth in areas as diverse as fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, biotechnology, renewable energy, engineering and manufacturing, and tourism.

Blue Tomorrow had its beginnings in 2020 when New Zealand closed its borders in response to the Covid pandemic. With international students no longer able to enter the country the Government looked to create a strategic recovery plan, with the aim of identifying how the education sector could diversify to achieve better resiliance and sustainability in the future.

Tim Brown says Blue Tomorrow was one of the most exciting projects they looked at.

“The blue economy is centred around a global cause and we are seeing a shift in education from ‘course to cause’ so this was a project that enabled us to explore that. Through Blue Tomorrow we also saw this fantastic confluence; research institutes, local government, learners, industry employers all brought together in a way that hadn’t been done before and in a way that has potential significant economic value for New Zealand,” he says.

Education New Zealand supported the Blue Tomorrow pilot which was developed by AUT Ventures, who partnered with strategy and design consultancy Ghost, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) / Te Pūkenga, and Nelson based blue economy cluster Moananui, to co-design the course.

Steve Corbett from AUT Ventures says Moananui and NMIT brought breadth and depth to programme content and were outstandingly “supportive, positive and creative”. Moananui partner, Cawthron Institute, also came on board, which enabled participation from higher-level scientific research, serving both as a way of connecting with other global experts, and a channel for Cawthron to share its expertise to a wider, real-world audience.

“The perfect outcome was bringing industry to the table through Moananui and the value of having a course linked to employment outcomes was significant. The result was even better than originally envisioned, illustrating the value of adopting an agile approach,” says Steve.

Moananui fosters partnerships to transform New Zealand into a world leader in oceans development.  CE Jodie Kuntzsch says Blue Tomorrow fitted with the cluster’s objectives around future work force.

“Our partners are not experts in education but they are experts in their field. We could help create that gripping content with real life examples and connections between people and place which seems to have resonated with students who took part in the pilot,” she says.

In 2022 the four-week pilot course was made available on global learning platforms. It immediately attracted interest, with 380 enrolments from learners in over nearly 70 countries, including New Zealand. Enrollees were largely well-educated, young or early middle aged adults and had a high degree of engagement with the course content.

One of the key findings was that learners who enrolled were passionate about the ocean, and seeking ways to gain education or career opportunities in this area. Most were keen to continue learning about the blue economy, and interested in studying with a New Zealand education provider. Many also expressed interest in working in the New Zealand industry.

“We see it as very positive that the pilot identified that the blue economy is a unique selling point for New Zealand. We want to encourage people to turn that passion into careers in our blue economy that align with their values and enable them to make an impact,” says Jodie Kuntzsch.

Work is now focused on how to apply the learnings from Blue Tomorrow to larger awareness, recruitment and study programmes.

“It really was a prototype that was highly innovative. It broke a lot of the rules, and it produced a tremendous amount of learning for not only the students themselves, but everyone involved, from government level, education providers, and the industry” says Steve Corbett.

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