Leveraging new skills

New Zealand’s largest industry training organisation is committed to giving its industry groups the best possible technical and commercial skills to grow their businesses, their industry and New Zealand.

Skills Group, the purchaser of the Institute of Management NZ (IMNZ), can boast some very impressive statistics. 

Skills has a 25-year history, is New Zealand’s largest industry training organisation (ITO) and manages more than 100 New Zealand qualifications. It works with more than 4,000 employers to facilitate apprenticeship/training programmes for up to 20,000 trainees. And all this across 22 industries as diverse as electricians, plumbers, gasfitters, roofers, real estate agents, security guards, government and emergency response.  

Skills Group chief executive, Garry Fissenden, said in announcing the purchase that Skills is committed to “giving our industries the best possible technical and commercial skills to grow their businesses, their industry and New Zealand”. 

He told Management that there are two parts to the purchase of IMNZ. Firstly, large corporate and government departments they work with want leadership and management training and often ask what Skills Group can do for them. Corporates see this space as a natural extension of what Skills already does. 

In the SME sector, where many of their trade clients are, there is currently not a great deal of formal leadership/management training undertaken which, he says, could be due to a price point, relevance to the SME’s or quality issues.

“We think that because we are owned by industry,  represent industry and work for the industry this is a great way of offering further quality products they want and will use, at the right value. 

“New Zealand is not keeping up in the international productivity stakes.” Part of Treasury’s hypothesis is that this is because we are largely a country made up of SMEs and SMEs do not always have the capacity and management resources to fully leverage their businesses.

He sees this move as a way of allowing businesses to lift their own management capability. 

“In a typical trade business someone has gone into business because they are a good tradesman or woman. They think they can make money and they focus on being a great tradesperson.”

But, he says, in a successful trade business the owner should not be saying they are an electrician, plumber or roofer. Instead they should be saying they are a successful businessperson who happens to run a trade business.

And from the Retirement Commission’s perspective small business owners often don’t have KiwiSaver and the value of their net worth for retirement is based on the value of their business.

“The larger they can make their business the better for their own savings and the better for New Zealand,” he says.

Across the 22 trades and other industry groups they look after there are some similarities, but trade businesses are interested in different types of upskilling than those the real estate industry might want, although financial skills are pretty consistent across all the groups.

He also points to the fact that IMNZ offers targeted leadership and management training, which can be customised to the needs of individual firms. And IMNZ’s 70-year history means there is a lot of content and intellectual property which can be utilised, as can the facilitators it has access to.

Skills currently has 245 staff and works on three levels, says Fissenden. Firstly, as an ITO with government mandated training verified through NZQA and audited by TEC.

The second strand is taking the capabilities it has within the ITO to build an educational consulting business, both locally and internationally, using the programmes it has developed. Skills Group is currently working in seven countries including Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Cook Islands and Fiji. 

Fissenden says they have also done work in Saudi Arabia helping to build a system for financial services based on the work the organisation did in New Zealand developing the financial advisor’s regime.

The third strand is Shift Innovation using e-learning software that can help streamline training programmes and improve a business’s efficiencies, through the smart use of technology. Shift creates fit-for-purpose training programmes that can be implemented with minimal disruption.

As to trade apprentices – Skills Group currently has around 8,600 under its wing. The numbers are growing at about 12 to 15 percent per annum and Fissenden says this is the third year of record sign-ups. The numbers are growing at a time when New Zealand firms have full order books four to five years out on the back of the burgeoning construction being seen around the country.

He says this is the very best time to pick up a trade.

The average age of tradies is 23 with only 30 percent under 20; about 40 percent are aged between 20 and 24 and another 30 percent aged over 24.

He says the group is working to make the trades more appealing for school leavers but also accessible for people who want to retrain. 

People working in the trades need the skills and mental dexterity to be able to solve often very complex problems and, perhaps in time, the ability to run their own business.

Skills is also in the process of building a platform that will allow would-be apprentices to find an apprenticeship, working as a kind of matchmaker. It already works with a large number of firms in each industry group and with schools and iwi so is in a prime position to facilitate this.

It’s also piloting a programme whereby a tradesperson and business owner is advised or mentored by someone very successful in their own field. 

Fissenden says the industries they work with are very good at giving back and the two pilot programmes are proving successful.   

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