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Maharey Speech: Skilled for the Future

Skilled for the Future

Steve Maharey Speech to the SkillEX 2004 National Final Awards Ceremony, Waipuna, Auckland

Good evening and thank you for this opportunity to speak at the National SkillEX Finals Awards Ceremony for 2004. I am a strong advocate for the trades and workplace learning. While this evening is about recognising individual excellence, it is also a celebration of the hard work and perseverance of all the tradespeople who have taken part in this competition.

New Zealand needs winners. We need young people who are experts in their fields – who stand out as fast, efficient and highly skilled. The great thing about this competition, and other forums that promote workplace skills, is that they actively encourage excellence. Setting the best against the best promotes excellence and contributes to ensuring we have the skills we need for the future of work in New Zealand.

It is also an excellent opportunity for young people to find out more about the highly rewarding and exciting opportunities that the trades offer.

Youth and skills

The New Zealand economy is currently booming. However, with the success of our economy comes other challenges. While we have a high growth rate and low unemployment we are also faced with skills shortages. Young people are a resource crucial to the ongoing success of our economy and society and are not to be overlooked. The government is working to ensure we’ve got young people training in areas that will ease New Zealand’s current and future skill shortages and help our economy to continue growing.

I am not convinced that the general perception of workplace learning, particularly in terms of potential career opportunities, has kept pace with the diverse and exciting options now on offer in New Zealand. We need workers with high levels of skill, from generic skills such as literacy and numeracy, through to a high level of technical ability. Many traditional manufacturing and primary industries have been transformed by new technology into high-tech workplaces comparable to the best-equipped surgeries and laboratories.

They now allow for (and require) much greater levels of intellectual engagement. They offer greater scope for career progression. And in many cases they have wage levels that are comparable with, or attractive in comparison with, "white collar" jobs requiring similar levels of expertise.

Some parents, teachers and advisers are not fully weighing the options as to where they should encourage young people to go, based on full information. And many young people are defaulting to study in universities when a career begun with a Modern Apprenticeship might well be more fulfilling and more rewarding.

Despite this there is a strong and ongoing demand for high quality programmes such as Modern Apprenticeships.

I encourage young people to take up the highly rewarding and exciting opportunities that the trades offer. And I encourage employers to take a long-term view in addressing skills shortages – upskill your existing employees and take on young people to fill the gaps that will inevitably be left as the numbers of people moving into retirement increases.

We as a government are doing our part alongside employers, creating more workplace learning opportunities for all New Zealanders. Workplace learning is flexible, relevant and responsive and offers a range of options and assistance.

Maximising the Contribution of Industry Training

The government has championed a range of activities to help address both immediate and future skills needs.

Industry Training has been highly successful in meeting the skill needs of employers. Modern Apprenticeships is a key part of the Industry Training Strategy and effectively provides young people with the opportunity to gain qualifications and skills for the real world of work. As we are witnessing here tonight, many of you have taken these opportunities and have excelled.

The recently announced Skills Package demonstrates the government’s continued commitment to workplace learning. The Package responds to continuing high levels of demand in the labour market for relevant skills. It includes:

An additional fund of almost $9 million over four years to increase the rate of expansion of Modern Apprenticeships. This will mean an extra 1,000 places over the next 12 months;

An additional $5 million providing for approximately 5,000 additional funded industry training places during 2005; and

$2 million to fund a pilot scheme for post-placement support to get more people into sustainable, long term employment.

The funding boost to industry training and Modern Apprenticeships (and the positive reaction from industry, business and unions alike) confirms the quality of these programmes and their effectiveness in meeting skill and workforce needs.

Expanding Modern Apprenticeships will help address skill shortages, as industries will be able to plan for the future with a pool of highly qualified young people in the wider industry training system. It is a popular programme and awareness of it is continuing to grow. It is well on the way to re-establishing apprenticeships as a prestige option for a career choice for young people.

The Skills Package also brings the government’s total contribution to Modern Apprenticeships to $128 million over the next 4 years.

The industry training performance figures confirm that the investment made by employers, trainees and government in industry training is really paying off.

Just look at the number of Kiwis involved in formal learning where they work. The figures speak for themselves.

We had 126,000 people in industry training in 2003 - 20,000 more than we had in 2002.

And 29,000 employers provided industry training to their employees in 2003 - nearly 5,000 more than in 2002.

Modern Apprenticeships is also a significant and valuable part of industry training, bringing more young people into workplace learning towards national qualifications. As at 30 June this year, 6,874 Modern Apprentices were participating in workplace learning towards national qualifications. The Skills Package will bring the total number of Modern Apprenticeships to 8,500 by June 2005.

The success of Modern Apprenticeships illustrates in a very clear way the tangible benefits that arise from working in partnership with others to maximise the results for everyone involved.

For growing numbers of New Zealanders it is clear that the workplace is a good classroom and a credible route to gaining the skills they need and industry needs.

The government’s commitment also demonstrates the value we place on the trades, and the importance of training and educating people (especially young people) to become experts in their trade. That’s why I am delighted to be here, as this ceremony also recognises and celebrates the real importance of these achievements.

Your continued success with trades training will work to further strengthen the perception of the trades and ensure that young people with a real interest are prepared for the workplace and a career in the trades.

Success Stories

A number of successful New Zealand business people have been associated with SkillEX, including:

Geoff Scott – who went on to be the youngest executive chef in New Zealand.

Andrew Turner – Managing Director of Nautech Electronics, a company now exporting electronics and hiring 60+ staff, recent winner of the Manukau Excellence in Manufacturing award and previous nominee in Entrepreneurial award categories;

Wim De Bruin - Director of De Bruin-Judge Furniture Design and manufacturers; and

Rob McLaren – Director of McLaren Stainless, a past SkillEX regional, national and international competitor, and current SkillEX National Skill Expert for Light Fabrication.

No doubt SkillEX had a key part to play in cementing their choice to take up a skills based career and contributed towards the creation of a competitive and innovative spirit essential to succeed in business today.

It is encouraging that a number of past SkillEX competitors return to be involved in supporting the competition.

I am also confident that SkillEX will play an important role in the careers of this year’s regional and national winners.


In conclusion, I’d like to congratulate all those people who have competed in the regional competitions throughout the country. Only one of you will take out the top prize this evening, but you are all successful and you should all be proud of your work and the skills you have gained and will continue to gain.

I would also like to acknowledge the colleagues, friends and families of the award winners, who have supported them along this path.

And I offer the award winners all the best for the future. I look forward to meeting you later this evening.

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