NZ could look at overseas skills mindset

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First, some cliches. The working world is changing fast. Technology is accelerating the pace of change and today’s jobs aren’t the same as yesterday’s.

Whether building boats, roads, houses, bridges or apps — industries, materials, techniques and technologies have changed, and training has changed too.

Skilled workers will always be needed, but it’s the right skills for the right jobs, now and in the future. The challenge is to keep up.

But sometimes things are cliches because they are true. Right now, New Zealand industries are experiencing skills shortages and, very much so, the construction trades.

So the boom is also a crisis — we desperately need more builders, sparkies, plumbers and engineers.

You need good numbers of good quality people, with the right technical skills, and with core employability skills. And you need them now.

On the technical side, learning on the job means learning the right skills using today’s actual stuff.

For that, workplaces are the most up-to-date classrooms, and real industry people are brilliant teachers.

On the employability side, things such as turning up on time, treating customers well, being in a fit state to work, following instructions and showing problem-solving nous are also things employers need to see in real work situations.

Workplaces develop those skills too. When people think about what made them employable, it’s usually their early employment experiences, not their classrooms.

All of these things make industry training and apprenticeships the best way forward to meet industry’s skill needs.

We support new and existing workers to gain the right skills in the right place at the right time.

Sure, apprentices aren’t 100% productive out of the blocks, but they aren’t when they come out of tertiary courses either.

We hear about graduates who have qualifications but lack technical and/or employability skills. Employers say “we take on graduates but then we start again with them”. That sounds like a waste of everyone’s time and money.

The people on those courses want to get into your industry and think they are doing the right thing.

They are the last to find out if they get the wrong skills, after they’ve spent time and money, and probably taken out a loan as well.

 

Think like the Swiss or Germans

So if we are going to need to look at people and train them on our stuff anyway, I reckon we should think a bit more like the Swiss or the Germans.

Instead of our traditional approach of “school then course then job”, they prefer “school then job then skills”.

We don’t have those economies, but we could take on their training mindset.

But it’s not that easy, right? In the early stages, people are less productive, and can be a bit of a handful.

The Industry Training Federation (ITF) is currently talking to government and politicians about better levels of support to employers in the early stages of an apprenticeship, through to improving and expanding careers advice and guidance.

We need “after-sales service” for school leavers that provides structured and managed transitions into work. Industry Training Organisation (ITOs) would get alongside your new people to broker them into work and training, supporting you and them in the early months. Same goes for the unemployed.

It’s these areas where ITOs come into their own — supporting businesses large and small to provide support to employers and trainees.

We provide a world-class training infrastructure that develops a professionally qualified workforce, and we support people of all ages to upskill and retrain.

I’ve been lucky enough to look at a number of vocational systems around the world. For a whole range of reasons, Fred Dagg is right — we don’t know how lucky we are in New Zealand.

And we have employers to thank for this, because there are zero apprentices without employers.

I hear stories about people whose lives were changed by industry training. They found a kind of learning where they could succeed, where things made sense. It turned out they weren’t “thick” despite everything the system had told them.

And with a job, money, motivation and hope for the future, suddenly being on drugs or being a drag on the community was not going to be their future.

And it’s all because an employer made a commitment to them and provided the critical ingredients that turn people’s lives around and set them on the right path — time, knowledge, guidance, real skills and real work.

So while apprenticeships make a difference to individuals’ lives, they also help businesses and communities to prosper.

We strongly encourage more building businesses to take on apprentices. And we’d encourage anyone thinking of becoming an apprentice to contact the ITOs.