Guest post: Business has key role to future-proof pipeline of Asia-competent workforce

Guest post from Kirk Hope, CEO of BusinessNZ

Asia New Zealand Foundation recently released a report on the status of school leavers’ Asia-readiness. Data shows only 37 percent of senior secondary school students think Asia-related skills and knowledge will be important for the country’s future workforce. This figure is down from 46 percent in 2012 when the Foundation first conducted the survey.

Why does this matter to businesses?

It’s a fact that New Zealand’s present and future – economically, socially, and culturally – are tied with Asia. Seven of our top 10 trading partners are from Asia. According to Statistics New Zealand, almost one in four people (23.1 percent or 307,233 people) living in the Auckland region in 2013 identified with one or more Asian ethnic groups, compared with one in five people (18.9 percent) in 2006.

Is it any wonder businesses are already looking for employees with Asia-related skills? They need staff with these skills for their local and international operations. And having these skills will be even more an advantage in the future.

That is why it is disconcerting to know that fewer than four in 10 of New Zealand’s future workforce think Asia-related skills will be important. This trend should be corrected otherwise young New Zealanders will miss out on the growing number of opportunities the rise of Asia’s influence and relevance bring!

The question is: Does business have a role in ensuring we will have the supply of Asia-competent talent in the pipeline? If so, how can business help?

Earlier in the year, a report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) entitled ‘Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ proposed a series of measures to align education with future job requirements.

The report, which was put together by business leaders, policy-makers, unions, educational institutions and academics, recommends that education and business work closer together. This makes a lot of sense.

Among other things, the WEF report suggests involving the private sector in teacher trainings through initiatives such as teacher ‘externships’ in businesses. I think that’s an excellent idea. Some organisations may already be doing this to some degree. As part of its education programme, the Asia New Zealand Foundation takes educators on trips to Asia to help strengthen teachers’Asia capabilities. We should build on programmes like this and consider others that would help align our educational system with the demands of this Asian century.

I’m sure there are many other ways the business and education sectors can work together to help the future New Zealand workforce to be more Asia-ready. Perhaps a good start would be for education and business representatives to sit down and talk.

Admittedly, initiatives of this nature require time to bear fruit. This would require commitment from stakeholders in the education and business sectors for this to gain traction and produce outcomes. But we have to start.

Such an undertaking is not only appropriate but imperative not only for our children’s future but indeed for New Zealand’s future.


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