New Zealand is in an enviable position. Labour demand is continuing to grow, reflecting solid growth in the economy and improved business conditions. According to the latest Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Jobs Online report, skilled job vacancies advertised online increased by 1.1 per cent in December and were up 7.4 per cent in the past year. However, this is good news only if the skills required by employers can be matched to the labour pool.
Immigration New Zealand's long-term skills shortage list features more than 50 occupational groups.
Little wonder, then, that the Government is assisting Kiwi employers to recruit skilled job seekers in Australia to help fill the immediate gaps in the IT, engineering, healthcare, construction and trade sectors.
And while there's no denying the importance of hiring to ensure immediate skills shortages can be met, there's also a need to ensure our future workforce has the skills required to meet industry requirements in years to come.
Large and small employers can make a difference by ensuring they are planning for the future and identifying and communicating job skills needed in the next three to 10 years. They can help address the country's skill shortages through direct engagement with future talent and by supporting industry organisations to do the same.
Engaging with the future workforce creates positive labour market outcomes and is one of the key objectives behind the Careers Expo. The UK's Education and Employer's Taskforce produced a research report entitled It's who you meet: why employer contacts at school make a difference to the employment prospects of young adults, which looked at the US, European and UK situations.
It found that where education pathways include employer contacts, jobs can be the outcome. This proves the adage that sometimes it's not what you know, but who.
The report concluded that high-quality careers education, information, advice and guidance plays an essential role in allowing young people to make informed choices about the courses and careers they want to pursue. It prepares them for the workplace by making them aware of the skills and attitudes employers expect them to have.
The report also found that not only do young adults who encounter employers in these formative years experience increased chances of employment, they also enjoy higher wages, pointing to higher productivity.
Employing graduates, apprentices and trainees is therefore not only commendable, the return is immeasurable.
The key therefore is getting young people in front of employers, industry, government departments and training providers.
Each year 160,000 Kiwi secondary school students (Years 10-13) make decisions about their careers and life after school, such as where and what to study and what they want to achieve in life. These are huge decisions for young people, particularly those who live for the moment and may find thinking about next weekend difficult.
Getting in front of this audience is vital if we're to ensure we have a pipeline of skilled labour coming through.
Being able to talk to someone on the job or from an industry body supplements the information they can find online and receive via teachers and careers counsellors at school.
The UK report rightly points out that employers (and I would expand this to include industry, government departments and training providers) are uniquely placed to advise on the technical and personal skills required to succeed as well as provide insight about how qualifications are perceived.
Through my years in this space I've seen many positive stories emerge from connecting young people with tertiary training organisations, industry groups and future employers, which is why I encourage all young people I meet to think seriously about their future and take advantage of opportunities to connect directly with future employers.