Vocational Pathways

What are the Vocational Pathways?

rosette fullThe Vocational Pathways provide new ways to achieve NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 and develop pathways that progress to further study, training and employment. Achieving NCEA Level 2 is the foundation for success in further education and the world of work. Level 3 builds upon this through shared opportunities across school, tertiary, and industry training. The Vocational Pathways provide a framework for students to show how their learning and achievement is valued in the workplace by aligning learning to the skills needed for industry.  

The six Vocational Pathways are:

NCEA Levels 1and 2 Vocational Pathways were launched in 2013. This was a result of government agencies, the industry training sector, secondary and tertiary representatives and industry and employer representatives working together. In 2015 NCEA Level 3 Vocational Pathways were also released.

Benefits of using the Vocational Pathways

The Vocational Pathways enable young people to:

  • find out the standards, skills and competencies that are valued by employers in particular sectors

  • find out the job or career options that are available in each sector

  • identify current and future programmes of study that support their career pathways

  • undertake a  relevant and coherent study programme that will enable them to achieve  NCEA Levels 1, 2, and 3

  • demonstrate a vocational profile to tertiary providers and employers.

The Vocational Pathways enable educators to:

  • know the recommended standards valued by employers in particular sectors

  • develop relevant and coherent learning programmes that enable young people to achieve NCEA Level 2 with a Vocational Pathways Award, NCEA Level 3 or equivalent, and progress towards further study, training or employment

  • share a student’s individual vocational profile with parents and whānau so they can more engaged in and support their young person's learning.

The Vocational Pathways enable employers to:

  • easily identify when students have the key skills, competencies and qualifications relevant to their sector 

  • identify a student’s strengths and interests that are evident in their learning achievement

  • have confidence that students are achieving a foundation education which provides them with the necessary skills to participate in the workplace or move to further learning

  • see developments at Level 3 to improve connections between school learning, tertiary study and industry training.

What are the Vocational Pathways made up of?

The six Vocational Pathways improve the relevance of learning for students by indicating how their learning and achievement is valued by broad sectors of the workforce. Each has been colour-coded for ease of recognition to help students and teachers plan study programmes.

Government, industry, and educational representatives selected a range of Level 1 and 2 achievement and unit standards that they believed provide a curriculum foundation in each Vocational Pathway. These are known as Recommended standards.

At Level 2, an additional category has been given to some of the Recommended standards, known as Sector-Related standards. These are standards that are closely related to the Vocational Pathway and require development of skills from, or direct experience in, an industry setting. The make-up of the pathways is important when young people are planning to achieve a Vocational Pathways Award.

At Level 3, achievement standards and Levels 3–7 qualifications have been mapped to the Vocational Pathways.

View the standards and qualifications that have been mapped to the Vocational Pathways here.

Level 2 Vocational Pathways Award

The Award enables employers to assess more easily whether potential employees’ skills align with their industry requirements. 

To receive 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 credits must satisfy the literacy requirements, and 10 of these credits must satisfy the numeracy requirements. For more information about NCEA go to the NZQA website.

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 60 pathway credits in total.

The following diagram shows this relationship: 

NCEA graphic updateThe 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 the sector. 

Information about the Vocational Pathways Award.

Vocational Pathways Profile

Learners can show their individual profile and Vocational Pathways Award to potential employers and they can refer to it when making choices about further study. The profile shows potential employers how a learner’s achievement relates to particular pathways and indicates their strengths and interests.

It 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.

The Vocational Pathways Award is achieved by the student’s having at least 60 Recommended credits in each pathway, including a minimum of 20 Sector-Related credits in each pathway.

Using the Profile Builder to help plan programmes of study

The Profile Builder is a tool that helps students to explore their study options by identifying the standards at NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 that align to particular Vocational Pathways. Students can use the tool to see where they are heading and think about where they would like to go.

The Profile Builder tool can also be used by educators when planning Vocational Pathways teaching and learning programmes and working with students to explore their study options.

Level 3 Vocational Pathways

Level 3 Achievement Standards and current Levels 3–7 local, national, and New Zealand qualifications have been mapped to Vocational Pathways to provide students with an ongoing pathway. The maps help students intending to study towards NCEA Level 3 and other Level 3 qualifications to make informed choices about their study options in relation to the type of degree-level study they wish to pursue.


There are a range of useful resources to assist students, parents, whānau, employers, and educators to use the Vocational Pathways on our resources page.

 Resources include:

  • Youth Guarantee updates and brochures
  • Vocational Pathways materials
  • Programme development and assessment resources
  • Assessment standards spreadsheets downloads
  • Brand guidelines

Guidance for educators

These pages contain guidance for schools, ITOs, and tertiary providers who wish to develop contextualised learning programmes, using the six Vocational Pathways. Contexts for learning are provided as examples to encourage development in the sector.

They outline key ideas about Vocational Pathways and delivery approaches that align with a Vocational Pathways philosophy, drawing together secondary and tertiary perspectives on the competencies that are required for NCEA Level 2, and exploring the connections within and across pathways. Programme design is a key feature. Assessment programmes are discussed, along with an example of an assessment programme. Questions are provided to apply the information to your programme and to help share your thinking with colleagues.

Handy online tools

There are a range of tools that students can use to help design their future career opportunities and educators can use to help design their programmes:

Occupation Outlook 2017 is useful when planning study and career options. It gives a clearer picture of possible career paths by providing education, employment, and income information on 60 key occupations in New Zealand. These 60 were chosen for their size, popularity, and potential for future growth.

CareerQuest is a tool that recommends jobs based on students’ actual interests. Students rate their interests in a range of areas on a continuum from no interest to high interest. The tool then recommends particular jobs based on this data.

Skill Matcher helps students to generate job possibilities based on the skills they enjoy or are interested in learning, shows how their skills could apply to many occupations within New Zealand, and provides them with tips on what steps to take next.

The Skills Org Vocational Pathways Tool helps you to choose your career path.

MyBlueprint NCEA credit records, diary and career planner in one easy-to-use app.

Helpful Links

Careers NZ helps people to make smart decisions about working and learning in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) ensures that New Zealand qualifications are valued as credible and robust, both nationally and internationally. Students can view their Vocational Profile on the NZQA website.

TKI is a bilingual portal plus web community that provides educational material for teachers and school managers. It includes Vocational Pathways internal assessment resources.

Find resources for education providers on TKI:

NZQA Assessment Standards Support Material

Assessment Support Material for the NZQA Vocational Pathways linked assessment standards

Other information 

Clean Technology – Careers for the Future Video

View the student stories showing Vocational Pathways in practice.

View the Māori and Pasifika trades training initiative helping students to gain relevant skills and qualifications to participate and be successful in the workplace.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vocational Pathways

Contact us

Email your questions and feedback to vocational.pathways@education.govt.nz

Find your network Principal Adviser (Secondary-Tertiary)