Industry short of skilled staff

BY PHILLIPPA BOA
Last updated 12:04 14/09/2009

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Column: Business view

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Today's Business View contributor is Phillippa Boa , the marketing and communications manager with Exito - the Extractive Industry's Training Organisation - which last week used the New Zealand Oil and Gas Expo to launch a new schools resource kit on the oil and gas industry.

Oil exploration and production in New Zealand is set to increase quite dramatically over the next few years as the riches that abound both on land and off our extensive coastline become the centre of increasing world focus.

It is not only oil, but a vast range of minerals from coal and gold to the more unusual, such as molybdenum and iron ore, that will be under investigation and produced.

While this is great for our country, there is one practical question that has yet to be conquered. Where are the workers for this next phase of production and development going to come from?

This problem was first highlighted in 2007 in the report Exploring the Challenge - New Zealand Oil and Gas Survey which confirmed that there are skill shortages in the industry, in New Zealand and globally, caused by an ageing workforce and fewer graduates in relevant disciplines. The good news is that help is at hand.

Last week at the New Zealand Oil and Gas Expo in New Plymouth, a resource kit for secondary school geography syllabus for years 11, 12 and 13 was launched. The kit has been developed between Extractive Industries' Training Organisation and the New Zealand Geographic Society and 1000 of these will be sent to about 450 New Zealand schools.

While Taranaki is the centre of oil exploration and production in the country, there are other areas that are extremely important for extractive industries, with the gold deposits of Central Otago, West Coast and Waihi and the coal areas of the West Coast and Southland.

We already know that in the next 20 years in Taranaki alone we will need to attract, train and retain 2500 workers in the oil and gas sector, as well as 21,700 other workers in support industries.

And that is just Taranaki. With oil exploration about to start in other parts of New Zealand, especially Canterbury and Southland, these numbers could grow spectacularly. The Government has already indicated that one of the ways of bridging the gap between New Zealand and Australia is to ramp up our mineral industry. To do that, it is going to have to invest seriously in educating young people in skills relevant to this sector.

The resource kit, which was three years in the making, is the carrot to get our young people enthused about the sector. However, we need to make sure that as these young people emerge from school, polytechnic or university, there is a clear pathway into a career in oil, gas or mineral exploration and production.

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Already research shows that there will be a critical shortage of employees as soon as 2011 - only two years away. And in the meantime, New Zealand is about to undergo a period of intensive oil, gas and mineral exploration. Should any of these projects strike a "gusher" or "mother lode" then employee shortages could severely impede the timely development of them.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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