Support for manufacturing – considerations for the incoming Government

By Troy Coyle, CEO, HERA

Making up around 10% of GDP, employing about 250,000 people across the country and investing 9% ($753 million) of the country’s expenditure into R&D (Stats NZ), the manufacturing industry clearly is not just about producing steel and other products. It’s about innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

Yet as the 2023 election races evermore closer, there has been limited discussion from the political parties as to their vision for our steel, manufacturing and heavy engineering industries.

Here is what I would like to see from the next Government:

(SUB)Acknowledge the pivotal role manufacturing plays in our economy and its role in building and construction

I’ve spoken before about The Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) and the identified need for a Minister for Manufacturing. A pan-material Minister could represent the industry broadly across all building materials, which would improve outcomes, not just for those directly in the manufacturing sector but also those downstream who rely on its products and services.

The ITP has also identified industry-led initiatives which, with funding, would help drive transformation and growth. These recommendations should not go unheeded by any incoming government.

(SUB)Protect the industry voice in vocational education

Hanga-Aro-Rau, the Workforce Development Council (WDC) for Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics, has become a valued and less bureaucratic process to enable our industry to shape vocational education.

Across the six WDCs, each works to ensure the vocational education system meets industry needs and gives a stronger voice to Māori business and iwi development. Industry leaders across the board – from hydraulics to agriculture – recently commented on the positive impact and progress that has been made on industry standards and training because of the WDCs. This could be at risk with some parties talking of removing the councils.

We would not want to lose this ability to help set standards and shape what skills and topics are prioritised in vocational education as we look to the industry’s workforce needs for now and the future.

(SUB)Recognise and seize the opportunity to drive innovation and the economy forward.

We can and need to learn from other countries, such as Australia, who are recognising the importance of sustainable domestic manufacturing with a dedicated strategy “to harness Australian manufacturing capability and drive our economic recovery and future resilience”.

As an example, HERA is a partner on an Australia-funded, 10-year research programme focused on sovereign manufacturing (SoMAC). The programme recognises “the critical role of engineering excellence, intelligent automation and advanced technology implementation in accessing an international industry valued at $100 billion”.

And, the World Economic Forum has identified the potential transformation of construction into a manufacturing process, particularly through modularisation. This underscores what we in the industry already know as the importance of manufacturing as an enabling force for construction and the production of building materials.

The time is now for Aotearoa to step up and keep pace. We need to take a long-term view of the value the steel and manufacturing industries, which are an essential part of New Zealand’s economic landscape, can create for future generations, if given the right support.

Dr Troy Coyle brings more than 20 years’ experience in innovation management across a range of industries including materials science, medical radiation physics, biotechnology, sustainable building products, renewable energy and steel. She is a scientist with a PhD (University of NSW) with training in journalism and communications.