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22/6/2018 — General
Otago Chamber seeks answers
By Dene Mackenzie

The Otago Chamber of Commerce is starting a process of consultation to try and better understand the future employment needs for regional businesses and workers.

Chamber chief executive Dougal McGowan told the Otago Daily Times the main reason holding up business expansion in the region was the lack of skilled staff. The situation had been ongoing for several years without much progress.

McGowan was asked what action the chamber could take.

An independent group was being brought in to look at the issue and prepare a report and survey for the chamber. The survey would be then sent out to businesses, employers, employees and future employees, such as school pupils and tertiary students.

It was already clear some people wanted to work five-days-a-week and others preferred three days of work at 12-hours-a-day, he said.

McGowan had been working with the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand

Qualifications Authority to make sure businesses had a say in what they wanted from school leavers and tertiary graduates in terms of skills and qualifications.

“So far, there has been a mismatch. When was the last time you studied the academic record of someone and took any notice rather than hire on skills and ability?”

In the next five years, Dunedin had the ability to lead the country in opportunities for workers through building of the new Dunedin Hospital and other construction projects, he said.

The key was keeping in regular contact with schools, the Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago to ensure everyone knew what opportunities were coming up.

“We need to retain our best and brightest right here rather than have them look north or overseas for opportunities. We need a talent group of our own people.”

There had been a change to the way people in Dunedin wanted to work. Some young people talked about “jobs” rather than a career, McGowan said.

Some working in the “gig economy” preferred fixed-term contracts so they could do other things with their lives in between those contracts. Others talked about working for six to 18 months with an organisation, taking some time off and returning to the same organisation in a different role.

This week the chamber was sending out a confidence survey to members. April and May had been steady months for members but June was likely to show quieter activity, especially for retailers, he said.

The trend was businesses becoming less confident about their futures and there was interest in how the lack of confidence would translate to future profits. Consumer confidence was falling which meant households were borrowing less and spending less, McGowan added.

*Dene Mackenzie is business editor of the Otago Daily Times.

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