Heather Shotter: Skills pipeline vital for the future

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People: To make the city successful we need a workforce with the right talents, writes Heather Shotter

Heather Shotter is Executive Director of the Committee for Auckland. Photo / Duncan Brown
Heather Shotter is Executive Director of the Committee for Auckland. Photo / Duncan Brown

I don't think there has ever been a more exciting time to be an Aucklander. Talk is turning to action. We are beginning to see our city blossom and there is a lot riding on Auckland's success.

Auckland is New Zealand's economic centre and international hub. Our population is growing, and ageing. And we demand world-class infrastructure, improvement in our quality of living, the attracting investment, major events and talent that keeps our city growing.

However, the responsibility for elevating Auckland to a vibrant, urban, internationally competitive package falls squarely on a thriving economy.

Our businesses and industry must succeed in order to provide the growth and employment required to drive the rest.

A workforce with the right skills is a key enabler of business, and arguably the most important priority for the city at present.

A study launched this year conducted by the Committee for Auckland in partnership with Auckland Council and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment asked businesses what skills issues they are currently facing. The Fuelling Our Economy study highlighted a lack of integration and collaboration between government, employers and workforce training providers. School leavers are not told what skills the workforce requires. Immigrants, while highly skilled, lack New Zealand-relevant skills and expertise. Research projects are not aligned with the skills needs of our economy and forward workforce planning is not conducted on a regional or industry level.

The responsibility is left to individual businesses, the majority of which do not have the time or funds to invest in long-term skills development.

Furthermore, our managers are lacking in the skills needed to support employees. All these factors are restricting Auckland's ability to deliver on the vision our leaders have for the city and severely restricting the options and earning potential of our residents.

It's not just hard skills that industry has told us are lacking. Personal behaviours such as self-discipline, agreeableness and conscientiousness - known as non-cognitive or soft skills - were highlighted as lacking across the workforce. These skills are developed first in early childhood, so even if we start now, growing a workforce with well-developed personal skills is at least two decades away.

Skills development is a complex system, fed by multiple players - families, communities, schools, tertiary institutions, industry groups, council, Government and business. That complex system is operating in a complex environment. Products and services must not only keep up with, but also anticipate new behaviours and needs.

With all this complexity and fluidity it is apparent that skills development is an ever-developing ecosystem. That ecosystem must be equipped to respond to unpredictable outcomes and have mechanisms in place to ensure that emerging issues are identified and addressed. We need a paradigm shift. The objectives of the multitudes of players in the skills development system must align to a single end - to develop the right academic and personal skills to drive our businesses forward.

That paradigm affects everything from our immigration policies, industry bodies, research funding to the education system, from early childhood to the tertiary sector.

Like all live systems, to be successful it must be intuitive, connected and responsive. Industry led initiatives will be the driver of economic and social transformation in Auckland.

We need to focus on assisting industry to co-ordinate workforce planning and keep the pipeline hot. Industry Associations are best placed to determine the needs and solutions for their skills issues. Meanwhile, we should focus on developing and attracting the skills required to grow our economy.

As skills become more scarce, we need to make our workplaces available to those with the skills we need. Auckland employers need to be the country's active leaders and change workforce practices now. They need to consider flexible-work options, evolve with the changing life dynamics of employees and be open-minded to the strengths of migrant workers.

Human capital has been identified as a key determinant of economic success and economies are actively looking for talent outside their borders.

That is seeing many young New Zealanders travel to Australia and further afield to find opportunities that don't exist here. This is not without some benefit to our country, if their talents are not required by New Zealand businesses, then exporting highly-skilled talent to places where those skills are required is a good thing. It speaks well of our academic institutions' international reputation and their success speaks of Auckland's success.

We are operating in an environment where cities are competing with cities for a share of resources. Auckland needs to stand up as a total package on our own, irrespective of New Zealand's global marketing of its tourism assets.

We need to be telling the world a consistent story about our city. That involves the development of a strong brand to attract skilled migrants and international students and entice skilled New Zealanders to come home. A brand that has meaning, sharing our successes and acting today like the globally competitive city we want to be tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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