The Covid-19 pandemic has left businesses across New Zealand in a difficult dilemma. All companies want to improve profitability and build on their skills, yet most are not in a position to hire new staff.
There is an answer to this conundrum. By upskilling existing employees and taking on apprentices, Kiwi companies can enhance their prospects and stay ahead of the pack in an increasingly competitive world.
Competenz, a leading New Zealand industry training organisation, arranges training for apprenticeships and on-the-job qualifications in manufacturing, engineering, forestry, and print.
"Competenz works with employers and staff to help people learn-as-they-earn and develop nationally-recognised qualifications, which are crucial for the adoption of new processes and technologies," says Fiona Kingsford, Competenz CEO.
But what are the main benefits of upskilling? How can companies develop their employees? And how can training engage your workforce?
Industry experts Rob Kirwan, the managing director of heavy engineering business Culham Engineering, and Dieter Adam, executive director of business group The Manufacturers' Network, talk through the five key benefits of upskilling your employees.
1. Gaining a competitive edge
Improving your staff's skills can give your company a competitive edge over its rivals, crucial in today's environment. With skills development, your staff can apply and develop more efficient work practices, enhancing and improving productivity.
To remain competitive, manufacturers are discovering that they often need to adopt modern machinery - which in turn has an impact on company skillsets. Adam says: "We help manufacturers adopt modern machinery, and with that comes the requirement to upskill staff. If you don't update your skills and processes, you lose out."
"From a competitive point of view, a lack of skills is the biggest impediment to growing a manufacturing business," Adam adds. "There's real competition for skilled labour and your business has to present itself as being a better place to work."
Kirwan adds: "We've trained over 700 apprentices, and there's a definite benefit as our employees end up with a higher skill level, and that transfers through the business. I couldn't advocate training highly enough."
2. Young and old generations learn from each other
By learning new skills on the job, younger staff can inherit knowledge from the older generation, while experienced staff can learn new tricks from their younger peers.
Adam says: "It can work both ways. Modern processes require knowledge about materials. Older people can pass that on. While older guys may struggle to get to grips with digital technology, and younger guys can help them out."
Kirwan adds: "Without a doubt, different generations learn from one another. In our company, the young guys are savvy with automation, and the older guys are savvy in other areas, so they share knowledge."
3. Access to government incentives
Businesses that train employees on the job and bring in apprentices can access government incentives and funding, another great reason to upskill staff.
In May the government announced a $1.6 billion Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package to provide opportunities for New Zealanders of all ages to receive trades training.
And in addition, the Apprenticeship Boost offers eligible employers a subsidy of $1000 per month for each first-year apprentice and $500 per month for each second-year apprentice, for a maximum of 20 months.
The payment, made directly in advance to employers, means apprentices can keep earning and training towards their qualifications as the economy recovers from the impacts of Covid-19.
Kirwan says: "We're grateful that there have been some overdue changes from the government. There's so many young people out there who just need an opportunity to pick up some skills."
Adam adds: "The government is making an effort to promote and formally recognise micro-credentials, short courses that can be delivered during work time. If the government recognises the training, the government can deliver funding."
4. Using downtime to your advantage
In an economic downturn, some businesses may be less busy than usual. They can use the time to their advantage with on-the-job training.
Kirwan says: "Businesses have an opportunity to take the bull by the horns and get people engaged. We should all be flat out training our staff when we can."
Adam adds: "Now is a great time. Training doesn't cost businesses a lot in cash; it costs them in time, and many businesses now have that. Companies that invested in their staff during the GFC were able to recover more quickly and reap the advantages."
5. Loyal, engaged staff
Training can engage your workforce, making them happier and more loyal.
Adam says: "It's not rocket science. People want to go to work and feel like they're being looked after, and that their employer cares about their contribution. Training can be great for career progression and recognition."
Kirwan adds: "For me, it's all about culture. You can buy all the technology, but people are your biggest asset. Through training and bringing in apprentices, you will have people who are loyal and want to work for you."
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Opal is a manufacturer of corrugated fibre packaging for a wide range of customers in the food, wine, industrial and beverage industries. Bruce Coombe is Opal’s Technical Supervisor and has been with the company for the past 32 years, and a workplace apprentices assessor for Competenz for 20 years.