Executive summary | He whakarāpopototaka

A yellow-eyed penguin on a rock lifts its head to the sun as the sea splashes in

© Great South

Our region

Southland Murihiku is New Zealand’s southernmost region. Murihiku means ‘the last joint of the tail’ and describes the southwestern portion of the South Island and Rakiura (Stewart Island). Encompassing Southland District, Gore District and the city of Invercargill, the region covers more than 3.1 million hectares and spans 3,400 km of coast, with a population of over 100,000 people. Southland Murihiku is a region of plenty and since early Māori settlement, has been home to a resilient population of entrepreneurs and innovators with a ‘can do’ attitude.

The Southland Murihiku economy is dominated by agriculture (primarily dairy and sheep farming) and manufacturing. The region’s high reliance on the primary sector and manufacturing flows through to other enabling sectors such as transport, wholesale trade and professional services. Tourism is a small but important contributor to Southland Murihiku’s economy and has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The outlook for the region’s economy over the next five years is steady and after a pandemic-related decline in 2021, employment in the region is forecast to grow slowly through to 2027.

A major challenge for the region is the potential closure of the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) at Tīwai Point – a key contributor to regional employment and productivity. Regardless of the outcome that emerges, the need to build resilience and strength across the economy is paramount. Accordingly, a Just Transition Work Plan has been launched for the region which encompasses three themes: creating new industries and employment; transitioning workers and skills; and long-term planning. That roadmap will intersect closely with this RWP.

Southlanders are rightly proud of their region, their lifestyle, and their ability to welcome new people. Having a thriving labour market will transform the lives of all people living in Southland Murihiku and help embed and sustain our position as a key contributor to domestic GDP – a position woven into the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, both now and in the future.

Our foundation aspirations

The aim of the Southland Murihiku Regional Skills Leadership Group (RSLG) is to develop a thriving regional labour market to transform the lives of all people living in Southland Murihiku, both now and in the future. It is guided by the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te ao Māori, and our preparation for climate change and decarbonisation.

The RSLG’s activities are underpinned by four foundation aspirations:

  • Aspiration One: System Change – our region is prepared for future labour market needs
  • Aspiration Two: Change for People – our region supports people to thrive in the labour market
  • Aspiration Three: Cultural Change – our region is committed to equitable outcomes for Māori
  • Aspiration Four: Workplace Change – our region is renowned as a great place to live and work

At the core of the RWP will be regional coordination and problem-solving to inform investment decisions to help address our labour market issues, whilst harnessing the opportunities in the region over the next 15 years.

Our priority pou

To breathe life into our foundational aspirations and deepen our understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in meeting them, this first iteration of the RWP will consider the future of the region and focus on the needs of five initial Pou (pillars).

Rakatahi (youth) are the future of Southland Murihiku – a taoka that needs to be respected and nurtured so the full potential of every young person in the region can be unlocked.

The food and fibre sector is the foundation of Southland Murihiku – it is ingrained in the regional identity and holds a place of pride for our people. The sector has the highest share of both GDP and employment across the region.

The manufacturing and engineering sector is the ‘engine-room’ of Southland Murihiku – from large firms processing the region’s abundance of primary products through to award-winning high-tech manufacturing. Because of the prominence of NZAS Tīwai Point and its potential closure, this sector will play a pivotal part in the Just Transition process for the region.

The health care and social assistance sector is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of the people of Southland Murihiku. The services provided, and the quality and retention of those services, are of the utmost importance to local communities – and a major consideration in both attracting new people to the region and retaining the existing population.

The tourism and hospitality sector is the ‘show-case’ for Southland Murihiku – as the key to attracting both visitors and new residents to the region, it is a small but significant contributor to the region’s employment and GDP. It is also the sector most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic these impacts reach deep into local communities, making well-considered recovery strategies imperative.

We have also identified several themes and labour market challenges that are common across all or most of our Pou. Across Southland Murihiku, the pandemic has intensified labour and skill shortages, with the ‘battle for talent’ having a significant impact on the region’s businesses. This has highlighted the reliance on migrant workers to meet skills and labour demands, and exposed a vulnerability to immigration and border settings. Attracting people to the region is challenging because of external perceptions of distance, isolation, and a lack of things to do, as well as a constrained housing market.

Some businesses find it difficult to attract people because of negative perceptions of the sector they work within. There is often a lack of clarity about the diversity of roles, career pathways and broader opportunities each sector offers. Businesses seek to be better supported to develop governance and leadership capability, create inclusive workplaces, and strengthen workplace learning and development.

There are many people in Southland Murihiku who would like to be more engaged within the labour market – a pool of untapped potential. The groups most likely to be underutilised include people with disabilities, older workers, women, rakatahi (young people) and Māori. In keeping with this, work-readiness and transition pathways for rakatahi are a constant challenge (and a huge opportunity). While many sectors identify specific technical skill gaps, there are cross-cutting skill development areas mentioned across most sectors – for example, essential/foundation skills, and management/business skills.

Our actions

The five Pou we have analysed and tested with key stakeholders and partners, have allowed the RSLG to develop a set of actions that will enable the region to move towards achieving our Kaupapa. The opportunity to address these can’t be ignored – if we work together as a region to tackle these challenges, we put ourselves in a stronger position to sustainably support economic growth, workforce development, and build a more cohesive, resilient, equitable community fabric.