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Speech - Addressing New Zealand's skill needs

Hon Steve Maharey
Addressing New Zealand's skill needs

Comments at a discussion forum on the skill new zealand campaign. Terrace Conference Centre, Wellington.

Introduction

Good afternoon. It is great to see you all here and really getting down to the nuts and bolts of workplace learning in your industries.

Unfortunately my colleague Hon Steve Maharey could not be here this afternoon. I know he has a passion for workplace learning and has been right behind the skillnz campaign since its inception. As a former Minister of Labour I too have a particular interest in learning in the workplace and I am very pleased to be able to address you in his stead.

I understand you have raised some important issues during the workshop sessions this afternoon which will help pave the way forward for skill new zealand. As you all are now well aware, skill new zealand is a joint initiative between the government, Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions to raise awareness of how to increase skills levels in New Zealand and promote the benefits of workplace learning.

The skills challenge

No one doubts the need to keep lifting New Zealand's skills level. Our future success as a nation will hinge on our ability to build a skilled and dynamic workforce that has: • the capacity to respond to shifts in global demands, and • the creativity and expertise to create and exploit opportunities for growth.

The efficiency and productivity of industry and the well-being and career prospects of employees is dependent on a skilled workforce, as is the national economy's ability to grow and meet the challenges of the future.

Part of addressing this is ensuring there are good options like Gateway and Modern Apprenticeship available for our young people. But 80 per cent of the NZ workforce of 2010, and 60 per cent of the workforce of 2020 are already in the workforce today.

That presents a major challenge, but not one that we are daunted by. Industry training has proved itself again and again as highly successful in meeting the skill needs of industry.

That is why we have doubled the size of the Industry Training Fund, from $60 million when we came into office, to just over $120 million in 2006.

And in last month's Budget we committed an additional $25 million to the Industry Training Fund over the next four years to fund the transition to a single funding rate for Industry Training Organisations while maintaining volume growth in industry training. An additional $3 million over four years was also allocated through Modern Apprenticeships for the funding rate adjustment.

This Government has set a goal of getting 150,000 people participating in industry training in 2005. From there we want to move on to 250,000.

skill new zealand

We will achieve these sorts of numbers only with a great deal of hard work, cooperation and a commitment to applying fresh strategies and approaches. The skill new zealand campaign is one of them.

The key to the skill new zealand campaign is that it is driven by the needs of employers and employees in business and industry. It recognises to a considerable extent, skills issues have to be addressed where they occur - in the workplace.

Workplace learning is an essential and critical component of our tertiary education system, and skill new zealand will build awareness among employees and employers of workplace learning and industry training by promoting understanding of the links between employee organisations, businesses and government agencies.

Skill new zealand has made great progress to date and is really now starting to gain traction with businesses, ITOs and unions in building awareness and promoting the benefits of workplace learning.

And in Budget 2004 we expanded the initiative with a new concept of equipping some employees as learning representatives, championing learning among their peers.

Targeting the backbone of New Zealand's economy

It is crucial we get the skills development message out to those employers who have not traditionally engaged in workplace learning as a means of increasing the numbers of workplace learners and building the overall capacity of the New Zealand workforce. It is particularly important we encourage employers to retain and upskill existing staff, rather than poach employees from other companies.

That is why one of the areas where skill new zealand is concentrating its efforts is towards small and medium enterprises.

Small and medium enterprises are the heart of our economy up and down this country. The success of small business underpins the success of the economy, and of the nation as a whole, for the benefit of all New Zealanders. They are the enterprises less likely to know about the workplace learning options and how to get involved. And of course it is worth noting that the four industries represented here today have a high percentage of small and medium enterprises.

The SME sector is hugely diverse and cannot be treated as a homogenous group. However, we know, in general, training can be a particular burden on time and resources for SMEs. This was an issue raised many times during last year's road show.

That is why skill new zealand is promoting that workplace learning is flexible, relevant and responsive, that a range of options are available, and that there is assistance available.

Launch of brochures

The four industries you represent have been selected as a key focus for the current phase of the skill new zealand campaign because of the active steps already being taken by your industries to promote skills and the relatively low numbers of industry trainees in your industries as a percentage of your total workforce.

We want to assist you in promoting skills development to those who are not learning at the moment, and encourage more learning by those who are currently participating.

As part of this promotion, these brochures I am holding now have been tailored to your specific needs.

We have been working closely with your respective organisations over the past few months to ensure the material being provided to your industry reflects your needs and realities.

The targeting of information industry by industry is important. There are many differences between industries (and even between individual enterprises): workforce composition, technical complexity and markets, for example.

So when it comes to addressing barriers to workplace learning and skills needs we need to make sure our messages are relevant to the audience we are trying to reach.

I encourage you to use your expertise and networks to help spread these messages to the right people.

Conclusion

There will also be many valuable insights that will emerge as a result of this pilot that could help inform further work. Your participation in this early phase of the strategy will help ensure skill new zealand hits the mark when the industry strategy is expanded in the near future.

I am confident that working together we will make significant steps towards understanding and addressing skill needs in our country.

ENDS


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