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Answers to worker shortages lie in training changes

21 Sep 11

Credit: familymwr
Answers to worker shortages lie in training changes
Young workers: many want to go from school to apprenticeships rather than via WINZ to "no hope land"

Going overseas to find skilled trades people is one solution to current shortages, but the head of one of New Zealand’s largest employers says there is another to be found right at home.


Mike Huddleston, Chief Executive of AWF Group, says a nationwide AWF Group-Horizon Workforce Survey conducted in August supports his argument.


The poll which attracted 2266 total responses from both employers and workers found three of the biggest reasons for job applicants being rejected included wrong skills (48.3%), lack of experience (43.3%) and team fit (43.1%). The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.1%.


Yet the poll showed growth in employment - employers are currently looking to hire more than they were looking to reduce staff.


Mr Huddleston believes there should be an immediate review of the Government funding support for employers to facilitate skills training and apprenticeships for young people, and of the way workforce preparedness training is offered to young people like school leavers.


“It has become harder over the past few years for companies like ours to take young ones straight out of school and help them get experience to get on the employment ladder and then to take up apprenticeships,” Mr Huddleston says. “Changes to systems have created an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff situation. But now we have a cause like Christchurch, we have a chance to review that.”


NZX-listed AWF Group is the biggest supplier of temporary staff in New Zealand with 31 branches from Kaitaia to Invercargill, employing up to 3,000 people on any given day. AWF is a supplier of temporary staff to most industrial sectors including manufacturing and distribution, construction and infrastructure development, mining, general labouring and healthcare. AWF is also an NZQA accredited training organisation.


Mr Huddleston says its AWF Trades division particularly would be keen to see a review of the government funding for pre-apprenticeship training and work experience systems.


“We used to take young ones straight out of school. The Ministry of Social Development would pay us to train them and produce outcomes. We would work with the schools to identify the young people who would benefit from something like our Cadet Max 12-week construction start up course. We had an 80% pass rate. It was a two days working, three days training course so they could earn some money along the way too.”


Ruth Luketina, a Mangere College careers advisor, sent students to the Cadet Max course and described it as “an invaluable resource for our school leavers”.


“Being able to study locally in Mangere and get NZQA qualifications up to Level Four in carpentry, while experiencing the real world of work was a wonderful opportunity for young, practical people,” she says.


“A lot of students in Mangere are not in a family situation where there is any money to support them in tertiary training and to have an option available where they can train, with no fees, and have a supportive environment was great.”


Joy Williams, a careers advisor at James Cook High School, says in the first half of 2008 five of the six students she sent to the Cadet Max scheme gained apprenticeships.


Both women had more students keen to enroll in the course before it was dropped.


Mr Huddleston says AWF now has to wait until the students drop out and go through the Work and Income system before it is asked to help.


“That’s often too late because they’ve often developed bad habits that make them unattractive to employers. There needs to be a better appreciation that companies like AWF have a far better chance of achieving long term employment outcomes than dedicated training organisations whose responsibility ceases once the training is complete.”


“The country needs to grab these kids and instill work ethics and skills before they cross the bridge into what is often no hope land.”


Of the 2266 people who completed the online poll 18.9% said they were unemployed. But many were interested in apprenticeships and skills training. And more than 170 respondents would have liked their school to have arranged job training with an employer.


National Business Review story on this result is published here.