Opportunity Post COVID-19 to look at skills required in Manufacturing

March, 2021

By: Michael Burgess

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Manufacturing has been identified as a key sector for our economic recovery post COVID-19, but many manufacturers cannot find the skilled staff they need to help them increase production and help the nation recover.

This issue is not new and existed pre-COVID-19.

The lack of suitable numbers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) among students coupled with an ageing workforce as baby boomers start to retire is compounded by the antiquated perceptions by students, parents and teachers that manufacturing is dirty, dangerous and does not involve a great deal of thinking.

Manufacturers are addressing those perceptions by engaging with schools through a number of programs like Gateway, Youth Initiative Progammes, and Trade Academies that provide secondary schools level 2 manufacturing and technology courses, and Career expos.

To address the productivity restrictions caused by the skill shortage manufacturers are looking at improving processes or implementing technology improvements and this requires a higher level of skill for workers as they need to effectively understand robotics and advanced software.

To date immigration has played an important part in ensuring that manufacturers get the skills they need – this is likely to continue as upskilling an existing workforce and ensuring a supply pipeline of locally trained people in manufacturing takes time. Technical skills will become an important factor in the manufacturing recovery.

Digital engineering skills are also going to be needed more than ever. There is no doubt that programmes that enable individuals to learn the latest digital techniques will support a productivity boost. Some returning employees will need to be upskilled and better able to adapt and respond to technical innovation in manufacturing companies. The border closures from COVID-19, that still remain in place at time of writing, highlight what happens when manufacturers cannot access skilled technicians from overseas. We need to ensure more of these skills are available locally.

For New Zealanders companies looking to retrain in key sectors like Manufacturing, mechanical engineering and technology, funding opportunities are available. The Government recently announced funding specially targeted at manufacturing among other key sectors that covers course fees, compulsory course costs, and compulsory student services fees paid by learners or employers to Tertiary Education Organisations.

For manufacturing this ranges from NZ Diploma in Engineering-Mechanical (Level 6) to NZA in Engineering-Fabrication. While the funding makes upskilling more attractive, the difficulty is in attracting people to these courses in large numbers.

As part of COVID-19 Business Recovery EMA have set up on- line training modules under Manufacturing Pathways covering Supply Chain, Redevelopment and Restructuring, Managing Stress, Skill Development, Project management and Communication leading to a Certificate in Business Recovery. Full details at

By focusing and funding targeted sectors like manufacturing, employees can be given assurances that this is where the future jobs will exist. Now is the time to consider training in a manufacturing career. Like most sectors manufacturing may go through a period of readjustment as we exist in a ‘new normal’ business landscape, but like the stock market, over the medium to long term it will fully recover as long the skilled staff required to lead that recovery are available.

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