Apprentice scheme the key to growth as region lacks skills

By Ingrid Tiriana

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The global financial crisis has highlighted more than ever the need for specialised, skilled staff to help keep businesses afloat.

Skilled staff are needed to lift productivity, leading to growth and profitability.

Currently, however, skilled staff are few and far between in the Bay of Plenty, and those who are skilled can be difficult to retain with limited career progression in the region.

In the latest Tauranga business confidence survey, 24 per cent of respondents indicated they were finding it difficult to find skilled staff.

A check of job vacancies in the Tauranga region shows the vast majority of employers are seeking people with specific skills, as businesses recognise the vital role that skilled people play in ensuring the success of an organisation, says Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason.

"Many of the current vacancies are in skilled areas - logistics and warehousing, health, accounting, specialist IT work, production and engineering, technical work and even specialised retail and sales positions," says Mr Mason.

The latter, he says, indicates that even in retail businesses need excellent sales people to help increase demand, and that they have to be more proactive to generate sales.

"Retailers can't just get someone for minimum or youth rates to sit behind the counter because customers demand good, quality sales people with specialised knowledge about what they're selling."

Employers who want the benefits of having skilled staff have to pay people well - and therein lies the rub for some as they continue to struggle in the current financial climate, Mr Mason says.

He believes employers will get the results they desire if they are prepared to pay their staff well, and reward them with good benefits and good management.

But staff can also help themselves, he says.

"Skills are hugely important, and here in the Bay of Plenty our skills base is lower than the national average," says Mr Mason.

"We won't be a productive, high-wage economy until we can increase skills levels, and local tertiary-level education institutes play a part here."

Skills shortages in the Bay of Plenty reflect what's happening nationally, according to Immigration NZ, which also lists construction, trades, agriculture and science among areas experiencing skills shortages.

More funding and focus on apprenticeships is part of the skills shortage solution, according to Business New Zealand.

Its chief executive Phil O'Reilly says the revamped apprenticeships scheme, announced recently by the Government, will help get more people into needed skill areas.

"More overall funding, higher requirements for educational content and financial incentives to enter into apprenticeships are useful changes," says Mr O'Reilly.

"Higher incentive payments for priority construction trades will particularly help get the skills needed for the Christchurch rebuild.

"It will be important for these changes in apprenticeships to be executed well. Employers want quality apprenticeship training."

He says allowing employers to get direct access to industry training funding to organise their apprenticeships will bring competitive pressures on industry training organisations, and help build on their higher performance in recent months.

"Past problems in the system that resulted in waste and large numbers of 'phantom trainees' have been robustly addressed by recent work in this area and by the changes," says Mr O'Reilly.

Business NZ recommends that savings from the new scheme should be reinvested in industry training, Mr O'Reilly says.

"Under the new scheme the increased focus on higher educational content will need to complement, not replace, practical elements of the training.

"The training will need to be fit for purpose, with the ability to hold ITOs, training providers, employers and trainees to account," he says.

"It will be important that government agencies and ITOs work together with industry to ensure that these changes do enhance the value of training for employers and employees."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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