September 6th, 2012
Lack of skilled workers forces employers to hire overseas
Most New Zealand employers would agree that they’d like to hire New Zealand citizens – creating a kiwi operated company and reducing our high unemployment rate. But with a shortage of skilled tradespeople
, such an ideal is no longer a reality for many employers.
The obvious solution to a skills shortage is to train more people but, to do so, companies need to be in a position to recruit, manage and nurture an apprentice to the completion of a qualification. And this is no easy feat.
Research by Competenz
, the industry training organisation for the engineering, manufacturing and food & beverage manufacturing sectors, found that a lack of management support is the main barrier preventing employers from taking on apprentices – and a possible explanation as to why the vast majority (75 per cent) of companies in these industries do not hire an apprentice.
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But it’s also to do with time, an apprenticeship is a 3-4 year qualification, but for companies facing rapid growth they require skills today – something New Zealand cannot provide. Employers are left with little alternative but to hire already qualified tradespeople from overseas.
It’s this predicament that has seen Canterbury business Victor Hydraulic Cylinders hire over 10 tradesmen, mostly Fitters and Turners, from the Philippines over the past two years.
“For us, our demand isn’t related to the rebuild – we hired our first 6 Filipino workers before the earthquakes even hit,” says Karen Fordyce, Human Resources Manager at Victor. “In the last 12 months we’ve extended our plant so it’s essential we have people to operate this machinery.”
Karen explains that Victor was advertising job vacancies as normal, but it quickly realised that the people applying for its jobs were overseas workers brought into the country by other Canterbury employers.
“We received a call from a business asking us to kindly stop ‘poaching’ their workers. It was them that gave us the name of an agency that could help us fill our demand with offshore employees,” says Karen.
“Obviously we would far prefer to hire locally, but we just can’t find the skills we need in Christchurch.” And clearly Victor isn’t alone. Karen says Victor is aware of at least half a dozen other local businesses that are taking the same approach, and it’s likely that rebuild demands are only exacerbating the skills shortage for many.
“Even employers that are able to take on apprentices are struggling because there is a huge shortage of quality apprentice candidates in Christchurch as well,” says Dave Bond, Christchurch Trades Team Leader at Competenz. “In the last week alone I’ve had four new companies approach me for apprentices – but we just don’t have enough candidates. The only other option companies have is to use WINZ candidates who often have low literacy and numeracy skills – therefore they find it easier to look overseas.”
It’s a concern that makes it clear the promotion of vocational pathways needs to be strengthened in schools, making it easier for students to transition into industry – something Victor agrees with.
As part of a three pronged approach to tackle the skills shortage Victor is building its relationship with polytechnics and secondary schools – and already has students on site, as part of the local secondary schools Gateway Programme and CPIT Work experience. They are also giving tours to Year 9-12 engineering students to ensure the interest in engineering is developed at grassroots.
But Victor’s planning doesn’t end there. “We’re also improving our internal training manuals and programmes,” says Karen. “But most importantly we’re expanding our apprentice programme and adding extra resources to support this. Ideally we are looking to take on two apprentices a year, so in three years’ time we’ll have six apprentices.”
And it’s this combined approach that will help Victor and companies alike to prepare for the future – introducing young up-and-coming tradespeople into training today to prepare for tomorrows skill needs.