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WITT to lead Zero-emission workforce training

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) is to future-proof itself and the region of Taranaki by growing a zero-emission, green-energy workforce.

“Taranaki is moving from New Zealand’s premier producer of oil and gas to becoming its leader in sustainable green energy, on the way to becoming a low emissions economy by 2050 – and WITT has a major focus on that transition,” the Chief Executive, John Snook, said.

His comments come on the back of a letter from Taranaki’s Mayoral Forum to Education Minister Chris Hipkins, which effectively anoints WITT as the specialist tertiary provider required to both lead and support the province in the “Just Transition” to a low-emissions economy. It also acknowledges WITT’s drive to provide internationally renowned applied research to develop renewable energy programmes for future learners.

The letter, signed by New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom, says WITT should be seen as an integral part of the $27 million investment to set up a clean energy centre in Taranaki announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and allocated from the Regional Growth Fund.

The Mayoral Forum has also echoed WITT’s backing of the Government’s Review of Vocational Education and its recommendations to link at-work and apprenticeship training with on-campus and distance learning facilities which are to be developed at WITT and across the region.

Mayor Holdom said the region had pulled together as one with business, iwi, unions, councils and entrepreneurs collaborating to develop a plan to help drive the successful decarbonisation of New Zealand in a way that maintained its position as a high value economy.

“We’ve designed an energy, engineering and environmental ecosystem built around the National New Energy Development Centre which will draw in education, research, commercialisation, investment and innovation to drive the changes needed to transform our economy,” the Mayor said.

“Education is one of the critical enablers of this work because we need to create the next generation of problem solvers, critical thinkers and the associated capabilities to drive the change needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Mr Snook said as the country moves to a low emissions economy, WITT will be a leading partner in the development of the workforce, supporting the transition of workers to the skills required.

“There are many sectors which will need to change their thinking and upskill their existing and new workforces if New Zealand is to be among the leaders in regional and national development of the low emissions energy sector, as well as transport and primary industries,” said Mr Snook.

“Precision welders for hydrogen storage and transport, construction staff who can put together tidal power stations and offshore wind generators and many others will be supported by WITT to ensure they are upskilled in quality programmes and qualifications. Employers will be able to look to us to supply the workforce, from Project Managers to Trade Skills and from Systems Quality Assurance Inspectors to Design Engineers,” he said.

“WITT sees itself as the producer of hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled workers over the coming years – we are not a university, we are an Institute of Technology with a focus clearly fixed on supporting our regional – and national - economy and its workforce as the region transitions. We will be adopting the results from research in New Zealand and overseas, and adapting these into new courses and learning modules, to get us all to our 2050 target.”

He said WITT would consult leading European companies, trainers, research workers and educators in the field of low emission energy applications to assist in designing and developing short and long-term courses for students, be they school leavers entering full time programmes or employed staff who require bite-sized, just-in-time training, to ensure they are constantly upskilled.

The chief executive of Hiringa Energy, Andrew Clennett, has applauded WITT’s vision.

Hiringa is the first company in New Zealand dedicated to the supply of green hydrogen.

Andrew Clennett said it was vital New Zealand offered upskilling courses that were of an international standard.

“We need to have technicians who can operate and maintain the equipment we are and will be using, in Taranaki and across New Zealand, and these skills are not presently taught anywhere.

“We may require international expertise to design and build our plants – but then local New Zealanders will run and understand how to maintain them.”

He envisaged a range of courses being introduced - not just for new students, but in many cases as a “bolt-on skill set” for already employed staff.

“We see WITT providing pathways to truly internationally recognised qualifications and to transferable skills, which can be used globally as the world shifts to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to reach a net-zero carbon target by 2050.”

Venture Taranaki CE Justine Gilliland welcomed the focus of WITT on the low-emissions economy.

“Here in Taranaki we already have a wealth of expertise, knowledge and skill in producing energy. WITT has a critical role to play in our region’s success, and WITT’s focus on supporting that depth of skill to continue in a cleaner energy world will help ensure our region remains at the forefront of New Zealand’s energy sector.”

The polytechnic announced earlier this month that it wants to establish a structure which closely aligned with local employers and their workforce needs.

“This new model also will provide opportunities to engage with international technical vocational education and training (TVET) organisations which are already operating in Europe and which are moving to low emissions economies, like Sweden, Holland, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Scotland,” John Snook said.

He said feedback to the proposed changes to date had been very positive.

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