Manufacturing dead end, school leavers told

Young people are told manufacturing and other skilled trades are places for failures, rather than being encouraged into the sector that drives exports, a Christchurch manufacturer says.

At the Parliamentary Inquiry into Manufacturing in Christchurch yesterday, Talbot Technologies director Steve Wilson said the country - and the Government - had stopped thinking manufacturing was an asset to the nation.

"Now, you find teachers warning students that if you don't perform they will end up in manufacturing."

Germany was the largest exporter of manufactured goods until 18 months ago, and it had a completely different attitude to its engineers and manufacturing sector, he said.

"Their engineers have a title that is more revered than a doctor."

When the late Angus Tait, founder of Christchurch firm Tait Communications, was at cocktail parties he would be ignored in the corner while people thronged around the managing partners of large accounting firms, he said.

One drove innovation and a business that employed hundreds and the other ran a business that balanced the books, he said.

"That's what's wrong with the culture, I believe," Wilson said.

When Kiwi whiteware manufacturer Fisher & Paykel Appliances moved most of its production abroad in 2008, Talbot lost a lot of business.

Another company affected was Elastomer Products of Bromley.

The company set up a Thailand factory to continue supplying Fisher & Paykel and the business was now running profitably.

Elastomer managing director Tom Thompson said the loss of such a large player to New Zealand had even slowed the delivery of imported parts into New Zealand for the rest of the industry because the critical mass was no longer there.

"I'm not sure if the general populace knows the impact on the New Zealand economy when something like that happens."

Losing those large companies happened regularly in New Zealand and it needed to be stopped, he said.

Wilson believed Fisher & Paykel would not have gone overseas if it felt more welcome at home.

"I personally don't think Fisher & Paykel would have gone overseas if they felt the Government had an empathetic connection . . . It's really about attitude, they felt they weren't supported in New Zealand."

Talbot managing director Darryn Ross said a friend who ran a large Invercargill boat-building company had told him about a school trip to the factory.

When the students were being put back on the bus, their teacher had told them, "if you don't pick up your grades this is where you'll end up", Ross said. "What a message to send to our children."

Wilson agreed: "They are almost taught to feel that it's a failure if you have to turn to a trade."

Becoming a drainlayer may be the best paying option for a young person, but they were taught to see that profession as a failure.

The Press