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Plugging skills gap boosts local economy

A collaborative approach to keeping tabs on the Wairarapa workforce is paying dividends for the local economy.

Meeting regularly, the Wairarapa Regional Skills Leadership Group (RSLG) is made up of local mayors, Iwi, industry leaders, worker and government representatives, all contributing their knowledge and local expertise.

The group has become the eyes and the ears on the ground, providing a current and forward view of the skills and labour needs of the region’s industries and employers.

The success has come from staying ahead of potential shortcomings in the labour market, first by recognising what skills are required, and second, implementing initiatives to plug the gaps.

Just last week, working through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Wairarapa vineyards got welcome news that an additional 100 workers would be available to help with the grape harvest, a combination of local people and others from the lower North Island to be temporarily re-located to the region.

Chair of the Wairarapa RSLG, Dame Margaret Bazley, recently handed over the baton to Pattie O’Boyle, who has a strong background in training and development in the primary sector, as well as rural finance.

Fuelled by a booming construction sector, strong primary industries and better than expected tourism growth, the Wairarapa economy has shaken off many of the negative impacts of Covid-19. Key to this has been improving overall workforce capability, Mrs O’Boyle says.

After an initial focus on construction and primary industry, both which have their own industry leadership committee groups, attention is now also being given to other sectors: manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, digital technology, and healthcare and social assistance. These were identified in a report commissioned by Wairarapa RSLG last year. The report, Skilling our Future: Wairarapa Workforce Plan, reaffirmed the belief that understanding current and future skill requirements first, rather than what existing trainer providers were offering, is fundamental.

“We were already working on this principle for the primary and construction sectors with a lot of success, so it makes sense to now be rolling this model out in the other sectors.”

Wairarapa RSLG’s work is happening as various tertiary sector reforms change the way in which a lot of training is delivered.

When Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre closed in 2019, to stave off a skills crisis in the sector the RSLG primary industries leadership group initiated the development of a replacement training option - a farmer-led cadetship - delivered through EIT (the Growing Future Farmers programme).

The group is now pushing ahead with a larger scale delivery model based out of the Taratahi Campus; the 2021 intake is up nearly three-fold on last year.

They are also working on mid-career upskilling options, with the immediate aim of lifting soft skills, and also business management and the use of new technologies.

Mrs O’Boyle says there is plenty of evidence that shows soft skills and drivers licensing remain big barriers to getting youth into work. Efforts to mitigate this are coming from several local organisations with investment from MSD, she says.

Starting this month, Ministry of Primary Industries is funding a Growing People Pilot, aimed at enhancing leadership and people capability. The one-year programme is targeted at 15-20 grassroots primary industry businesses with 2-5 employees.

Mrs O’Boyle says there is a lot of cross-over between the various sectors, however with the new industry leadership sector groups now being set up it will be much easier to provide targeted training specific to individual sectors.

Mrs O’Boyle says although the local economy is tracking well, there are “a few clouds on the horizon that we need to pay attention to,” she says.

Among them is a possible slow-down in economic activity nationally, particularly construction, because of anticipated supply chain disruption via shipping. This will also impact on primary industries with product moving to market, also via shipping.

“With many associated service businesses dependent on these industries, this could have a significant flow on effect which we need to be prepared for.”

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