The Waikato region is renowned for its diverse economy, encompassing agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, healthcare and education.
In the March 2023 quarter, the unemployment rate in the Waikato region was 5.1 percent, lower than the national average of 5.2 percent. This marks a continuation of the trend since 2021, where the Waikato region has consistently had a lower unemployment rate than the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand. This indicates a relatively strong and improving labour market in the region. Additionally, there was a net increase of 2,800 jobs, with notable gains in the construction and manufacturing industries. This positive trend suggests that employers are expanding their workforce and job opportunities are available for individuals seeking employment.
- Thames-Coromandel District
- Hauraki District
- Waikato District
- Matamata-Piako District
- Hamilton City
- Waipa District
- South Waikato District
- Otorohanga District
Success and barriers
The demand for tech skills in the Waikato region is expected to continue growing, particularly with the automation of the primary sector through robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as the emergence of innovative tech start-ups. While the region has a sufficient number of graduates in the tech sector, there is a shortage of skilled workers with more advanced expertise. Furthermore, the school-to-employment pipeline could be strengthened, and the tech-related qualifications offered by tertiary institutions across the region may not provide enough practical application learning to meet industry expectations.
Highlights from the past year included:
- Local tech companies and initiatives investing in our rangatahi (young people) to provide them with experiences that help build the local pipeline of future skilled labour.
- The Māori Trades and Training Fund is considering supporting Māori entities in facilitating in-work training in digital technology to assist candidates in moving towards tech-related employment.
- Hanga Aro Rau (Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics Workforce Development Council) has created micro-credentials aimed at up-skilling team leaders in manufacturing to support the increasing digitisation processes, thus smoothing the pathway for digital skills.
Digital technologies - Case study
The Ministry of Social Development and HCLTech have joined forces to cultivate Aotearoa New Zealand's homegrown technology talent and make digital skills more accessible. The rise at HCLTech pilot programme was launched in August 2022 with 18 participants receiving foundational training. This Hamilton-based initiative has given people in the Waikato region the chance to begin or further their career in tech. It is specifically tailored to support Māori, Pasifika and women who wish to gain, upgrade or switch their skills. Participants completed the foundational training in November 2022 and were offered internships that started in March 2023. At least 14 interns will be job-ready and eligible for employment with HCLTech or other employers from October. This Hamilton pilot is the first time the model has been tested in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Construction and infrastructure
There is significant opportunity to increase capacity and capability in order to meet the growing investments in the construction and infrastructure sector across the Waikato region. Ongoing skills shortages are observed in areas such as carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, welding, as well as a need for project managers experienced in overseeing large-scale infrastructure projects and construction managers who can supervise the entire construction process from planning to completion. Targeted efforts to attract, transition, upskill, and retain workers in the sector are critical for the industry.
Highlights from the past year for the RSLG include the successful attraction of women to the industry through initiatives like Women in Hi Vis and the online toolkit and equity directory. Additionally, significant progress has been made in building connections between Māori businesses and procurement pipelines, providing further opportunities for Māori workforce development. The development of micro-credentials by Waihanga Ara Rau (Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council) including on site assembly and steel fixing, has also contributed to upskilling the workforce.
Construction and infrastructure (housing) - Case study
In response to the region's housing needs, efforts have been made to implement innovative techniques to address capacity and capability gaps in the sector. For instance, EC8 Digital Building Solutions, a startup, has developed automation technology to measure and cut plasterboard, making it available to builders for increased efficiency, accuracy, and waste reduction.
These procedural efficiencies, facilitated through digital means, present opportunities for upskilling workers. Here, the RSLG's role is to advocate between industry and workforce development councils (e.g. Waihanga Ara Rau) to ensure that the required skills are identified and potentially recognised at a national level through NZQA. These skills can then be rolled out and acknowledged regionally as desired.
Priorities for the next 12 months
Over the next twelve months, our focus will be on addressing skill shortages, creating opportunities for disadvantaged learners, and strengthening pathways between school and work/training.
There is a shortage of digital technology teachers in primary education, resulting in a limited number of streams taught at that level. This has a cascading effect, as fewer students take tech subjects in high school and higher education, leading to a reduced supply of tech skills entering the industry. Moreover, there is a gap in the delivery of entry-level IT qualifications (Level 3+) in the region, with very few in-person training options available for IT students at that level. Other regions offer in-person short course training options through providers like Yoobee and Aspire 2.
Industry feedback indicates that certain higher learning fields of study, while teaching technical aspects of the qualification, may not provide enough practical industry oriented learning to enable new hires to quickly adapt to the job. Additionally, the cost and duration of these qualifications can be prohibitive, causing individuals to drop out of higher learning courses in favour of immediate financial security through low-skilled jobs.
Women, Māori and Pasifika individuals are under-represented in the tech sector in the Waikato region, often employed in lower-skilled occupations. Workforce diversity is a significant challenge in the sector, and while initiatives like TOMRA Fresh Food Scholarships for Women in STEM are steps in the right direction, more work needs to be done.
Freight and logistics
Initially, our focus in this area was on supporting the Road to Success programme to build a pipeline of truck drivers in the region, as guided by the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Freight Action Plan. However, our efforts have since expanded through close engagement with industry, in partnership with Te Waka and Hanga Aro Rau, to gain a deeper understanding of talent attraction, retention, and upskilling opportunities and barriers in the freight and logistics sector.
The Waikato region has one of the largest carbon footprints compared to other regions, due to coal burning, livestock emissions and heavy freight.
The opportunities in response to the impacts of climate change i.e., storms and outages, more volatile weather, rising tides and coastal erosion include solar generation, development of hydrogen refuelling stations, replacing coal burning with wood pellet boilers, offshore wind power generation and afforestation.
By way of example, Ohinewai Sleepyhead are implementing sustainability principles into their work practices and upskilling of staff that will enhance productivity with the least amount of impact on the environment.
We need to evaluate the way we educate our rangatahi. It is essential to explore new approaches to engage disenfranchised rangatahi, presenting them with learning opportunities that resonate within the school curriculum. A significant issue is the high number of rangatahi, particularly Māori, who disengage from education due to absenteeism. This problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic, severe weather events, and the cost-of-living crisis. The Government recently announced a $74m truancy package, creating 82 attendance officer roles.
While this initiative may encourage rangatahi to return to the classroom, it does not address the underlying issues, such as behaviour challenges that hinder the willingness to learn and hinder meaningful employment prospects or other training opportunities in the longer term.
Waitomo District Rangatahi pathways - Case study
When the Te Kuiti community wanted to help their youth dream big and explore career paths beyond what they were used to, Waitomo District Council listened and provided funding to Ao Tahi, a local business to create and implement a programme to do just that. Since the beginning of the 2023 school year, all 17 schools in the district including several local businesses have been actively involved in developing and facilitating pathways to employment through education.
The mission of the initiative is that upon leaving secondary school:
- All rangatahi in the Waitomo District region will pursue study or work.
- They will feel confident and prepared for this step in their career pathway.
- They have been exposed to a wide range of career options and feel they have made informed decisions.
- They will feel supported throughout their journey.
- They will engage effectively in the next step of their pathway.
To achieve these goals, pathway plans, employer/ employee exposure events, and workshops will be implemented.
The project encompasses:
- All 17 schools in the Waitomo District. Students from Year 5 (approx. age 9) to Year 13.
• Years 5 and 6: Workshops and employer/tertiary exposure visits only.
• Years 7 to 13: Career pathway plans, workshops, and employer/ tertiary exposure visits
- There are 687 students from Year 7 to Year 13 in schools within the region, which means developing and maintaining 687 career plans.
Key activities to date:
- Two main activities in term 1:
• Starting career pathway plans. A total of 212 plans were initiated.
• Workshops on the topic of 'Exploring Career Aspirations' with younger students. A total of 14 workshops were conducted.
One employer exposure event has taken place, specifically to Scion (Crown Research Institute) in Rotorua.
The initiative is initially planned for a period of 2 years, but stakeholders have expressed a desire to extend it out to 5 years.
 Waikato & Bay of Plenty Freight Action Plan 2022