by Jeni Bone
The New Zealand marine industry is investing in training, raising loyalty and professional standards to combat a national skills shortage and attract, train and retain the best and brightest for the ranks of the future.
"It’s a three-way partnership among industry, government and apprentices. They have to step up and know what is expected of them."
According to a recent survey carried out by Deloitte, an ‘overwhelming’ number of businesses in New Zealand are facing staff shortages and expect the situation to become much worse over the year. The survey involved over 350 companies from a range of industries and over 80% reported that they are suffering staff shortages.
Talent problems are becoming an increasingly common problem in New Zealand as staff cannot be trained quickly enough to cope with the growing number of skilled roles available. Skilled worker roles such as managers, IT professionals and accountants are all in high demand and the country is not able to fill the spaces with domestic workers.
Among those sectors feeling the pinch, known as Long Term Skill Shortage List (formerly the Priority Occupations List, are boat building, cabinet making, carpentry, welding, plastics and composite research and development, and electronic technicians.
Australia whose economy remained relatively stable throughout the Global Financial Crisis, still exercises a massive pull on Kiwis, young and old, but migration from NZ is occurring to the US, Europe and UK in significant numbers as well.
The New Zealand marine industry has felt the impact of the skills shortage and ‘brain drain’ for nearly 10 years.
According to Chris van der Hor, Chief Operations Officer at NZ Marine Industry Association, with the primary role of general manager for Industry Training, the industry’s response has been to 'invest in quality training programs, a solid model, working with industry to develop it and refine it'.
The results are a pipeline of skilled talent who have immense pride in their qualifications, industry and their contribution to it.
'Look, it’s a reality that New Zealand young people are entitled to their ‘OE’ (overseas experience),' explains van der Hor, adding that he himself, with 30 years boat building experience under his belt, spent 10 years honing his skills and expertise in Australia before returning to New Zealand – even more passionate about working locally.
'We don’t want to stop them travelling and seeing the world, but we realise that if we invest in their training and create a loyalty there, a good percentage will come back and settle down.'
The allure is not the money. Van der Hor says New Zealand companies 'pay the norm as far as the marine industry goes'. The Kiwi lifestyle and culture of boating and varied and diverse recreational pursuits are major factors. 'It’s a great place to live. We are never far away from water and there is so much to do and see.'
But the real 'pull to return' to NZ is the reputation of its training program and the calibre of skills its apprentices acquire.
'New Zealand does have a global reputation in the marine sector,' says van der Hor. 'So much so that the owners and heads of boat building and marine companies send their sons to New Zealand for training. That’s a real endorsement.'
For more than two decades, brands under the Silver Fern have cooperated at international boat shows and events, building a reputation as a formidable and collaborative nation of boat builders, sailors and marine experts. That reputation is a source of great national pride and dedication to upholding impeccable standards.
According to van der Hor, the four-year program is based on a mentoring model. Apprentices work with their mentor companies and the company works very hard to develop a culture of pride and loyalty with its trainees.
The training program is funded through industry and a government which sees the marine industry as a national asset, covering 70% of the cost of each trainee.
'That funding is based on outcomes and set performance criteria, which we have met and continue to meet and exceed.'
There is also a Diploma option, comprising two years extra study, and replacing what used to be known as the Advanced Trade course for supervisors and managers.
'We are small enough to be versatile and fit in with the changes and needs of the industry and apprentices,' says van der Hor. In the past two years, the NZ Marine Industry Association has developed an online learning platform, to help it flexibly meet the needs of recruits to its program.
'We couldn’t find one to suit, so we built our own. It’s all designed with industry input.'
Van der Hor states that the training is 'a three-way partnership'.
'Industry is involved in developing the program and taking on apprentices. Most people in our industry have a passion for it. They want to leave something of value behind and make a difference in young people’s lives. From our side, we try to create programs that are relevant and current. We research and write all the learning tools, as well as online e-lectures, videos and content. We coordinate and standardise it, but the employers deliver it. It’s our role to create more pathways for graduates. We have strong links with high schools, career advisers and a presence at career expos.
'And finally, the apprentices themselves have to step up and do the work, complete the study, commit to their role in the partnership. The expectations of them are clear.'
At high school level, the NZ Marine Industry Association initiative 'Gateway Program' targets people in their final years of high school, offering a 10-week, one day per week 'taste of the marine industry'.
'Students can come along and try it. It’s a way of showing them the range of opportunities that exist and show them it’s not just boat building. There are many careers out there, some of which haven’t even been invented yet, and many other trades, and their skills will take them there.'
Van der Hor says the New Zealand marine industry program produces 'the best graduates in New Zealand'. The figures show a 76.8% completion rate, which is well above Australia’s general TAFE rates which come in under 50%.
'We really focus on developing that culture of pride. At their graduation, we have a black tie event with high profile industry speakers. Everybody turns out to congratulate them and celebrate their achievements. The graduates really appreciate the support of their field officers, their companies and the industry at large.'
In tandem with the training program is the Discover Boating campaign, which van der Hor says 'introduces people to the water and tries to convey the fun'.
'There are many people in New Zealand who may have come from somewhere else, and they need to be involved in the fishing, sailing and boating lifestyle we assume as our national identity. We are selling the experience and reminding New Zealanders too to get back into it.'
More at www.nzmarine.com