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Polytechnics have vital role in industry

22 July 05

Polytechnics have vital role in industry and the economy

Reinvestment in polytechnics is vital to industry, as well as offering the solution to New Zealand’s languishing status on some critical economic measures says Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) CEO Dr Linda Sissons.

“In the news this week we’re told that this year’s IMD World Competitiveness Report, an in-depth analysis of 60 countries, placed New Zealand 57th out of 60 in availability of skilled labour, 48th in productivity growth, 32nd for business spending on research and development and 54th for high tech exports,” says Dr Sissons. “In light of New Zealand’s overall placing of 16th, these low rankings stand out.

“A recent report by the Government on workplace productivity also says that while New Zealand has one of the highest labour utilisation rates in the OECD we have low labour productivity.

“WelTec is actively working on projects with industry that can address these issues, as long as we have the funding and mandate to continue with the work.”

Dr Sissons says that this week’s Government announcement of a redistribution of polytechnic funding to high-relevance programmes is welcome, but the confirmation that the sector has a role in niche training for industry is also a strong acknowledgement that polytechnics have a place on the shop floor as well.

“Ninety-nine percent of businesses in New Zealand are small to medium enterprises, SMEs, with less than 20 staff. They are heavily reliant on an aging labour market of trade and technical staff. There is strong emphasis on apprentices in the changes to Government’s funding of polytechnics. This is very welcome. But the reality for many businesses can be 20 manufacturing staff to each tradesperson. So there’s a need to look beyond the traditional pathways for skill development.

“Many operators of SMEs recognise that the answer to productivity is effective training, but they say they don’t know where to start. While they can see immediate skill gaps, they are unsure how they can invest in their workforce in a way that is going to deliver benefits to the bottom line in the medium to long term.

“In 2003 WelTec did a study locally that confirmed that this is the norm for many manufacturers. Typically, the manufacturers told us that they needed help from government, education providers and clusters to know what to do to be more competitive,” says Dr Sissons.

Out of this study WelTec embarked on a detailed training analysis with two companies in the Wingate Industrial Cluster – the home of a number of companies that design, make and market their own products – called creative manufacturers.

The project is piloting innovative industry training methods and while there are benefits for the two SMEs, Metallion and Superior, it will also help to identify the kind of skills that manufacturing staff generally need for growth and future production. The project has involved some innovative on-site solutions including new smart training analysis tools, embedded tutors, and new models for training and skill development.

“It’s clear that growth and innovation is happening out there,” says Dr Sissons. “But for industry and economy to take the next step more projects such as ours and strong relationships between industry and polytechnics are going to be vital.”


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