Workforce changes present opportunities for industry

14 Mar 2019


The Government is delivering on temporary work visas and vocational training, with consultation running on some potentially wide-ranging reforms in these two areas. Both urban and rural businesses are responding and see these two reforms as an ideal opportunity to address some deep-seated problems with the New Zealand labour market. It is however, the combined strength of these two reforms that has the potential to make some really powerful and long-lasting policy changes.

Across all industries there are labour shortages and the situation is not getting better. Labour shortages are starting to impact on economic growth and, if the trend is not arrested and reversed, the whole New Zealand economy will be impacted. These two policy proposals offer a lifeline that could prevent the impending decline in business growth and turn it around. The problem is a relatively simple one: we do not have enough entry-level workers to sustain New Zealand businesses. Entry-level workers can go on to develop more relevant skills and lead businesses. It is where careers start. Throughout New Zealand, there is either a lack of New Zealanders, or those available are just not interested in working in the jobs that are available. So, rather than complain about this predicament, we now have the opportunity to do something about it, in partnership with Government.

The not being work-ready problem starts back at school. We do not prepare our young people to enter industry in occupations that not only suit them, but will also give them a happy and long-lasting career. We all have different skills and motivations. The trick is to harness and develop those skills and motivation, not when someone leaves secondary school, but well before that.  Indeed there are some programmes running to do just this. But in many cases these are add on programmes and not seen as mainstream. One of the biggest impediments to school leavers getting and keeping a job is having a driver’s licence, so they can drive to work or go directly into truck driver training, for example. If this was part of the school curriculum, then the majority of students leaving school would have at least one necessary ingredient. A driver’s licence is particularly important for rural jobs and where there might not be suitable public transport. 

For at least the past decade, neither the industry training organisations, nor the polytechnics, have received sufficient funding to run industry-tailored programmes reaching right back into the start of secondary school. The proposed vocational reforms are taking away the funding split and taking away competition between the industry training organisations and polytechnics. But most importantly, these reforms link what training is required directly to industry needs. This means for the first time this century, we can start at school in year 9, getting our citizens work-ready for a valuable and viable career.  There will be no cliff face at the end of secondary school wondering what to do, how to train for it, and who will employ you. There will be no time to develop a couch and drug culture. This addresses the biggest factor in becoming long term unemployed – having a career, being skilled for that career, and having most importantly employment when you leave school that starts before you leave school. This is the first step to resolving our labour shortages.

The second is recognising that there will not always be work ready Kiwis available to do a whole range of jobs, either low, or high-skilled. The proposals to the temporary work visas have two important components to them: each region will be assessed on that region’s needs and within that region each industry’s needs. To do this, industry will need to become involved in the decision-making around the immigration settings for that region and industry. Then for shortages, migrants can be employed under what is hoped will be a much more streamlined and less bureaucratic process, for both the migrant and the employer. In addition, industry is submitting that these migrants have a pathway to residency in the event that there are no Kiwis available to undertake that job. We are proposing that the test should not be based on skills and income levels, but rather in direct response to industry need. Keeping New Zealand’s \urban and rural businesses operating is essential.

If what industry is asking for with the immigration reforms for temporary work visas is granted, and the vocational education reforms retain their bold proposed changes, New Zealand’s businesses will continue to grow and prosper, working in conjunction with Government. More New Zealanders will be employed, and migration will drop. The key to dropping migration is not harder and more punitive immigration systems, but unlocking the potential of every young New Zealander.  My plea to Government is: do not weaken on the fantastic and far-reaching vocational education reforms, but do also enhance the immigration reforms, as is being proposed by industry, to produce some really powerful and long-lasting policy changes that will benefit all New Zealanders.

- Mike Chapman, CEO