Manufacturing undergoing change; stepping up to the world stage
New Zealand's manufacturing industry is on the rise quality-wise, with businesses looking towards highly developed examples in other parts of the world and working to implement best practice standards, says international recruitment agency, Michael Page.
The driver for this change centres around demand for our products overseas, thanks in large part to the enormous success of the long-running ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign cementing our reputation as a clean, green producer.
The company posits that higher demand for New Zealand’s products means export is no longer the sole domain of the multinationals, with smaller producers seeing more opportunities to enter overseas markets. To compete on a global scale, however, businesses must ensure their production processes meet or exceed international standards.
THE BIG MANUFACTURING SECTORS
Recent treasury figures show manufacturing sector output accounts for around 10 per cent of New Zealand’s GDP, with total operating incomes of close to 100 billion dollars a year. Of this, almost 30 percent flows from the meat and dairy industries, keeping them firmly at the top of the figures. A further 15 percent comes from other areas of the food industry, and 39 percent from broader primary products such as metal, wood and paper products, coal and chemicals.
Matt Walker is the Manager of Procurement and Supply Chain recruitment at Michael Page in Auckland. He says across manufacturing in general, businesses are becoming interested in process improvement, so they can compete and offer their products internationally.
“Predominant trends at the moment show businesses in New Zealand have grown from being small, privately owned companies,” says Walker. “All of a sudden these businesses are on the cusp of trying to compete with the big boys globally, trying to sell into China, Australia and other areas.”
MOVES TOWARDS PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE, COMPLIANCE AND TRACEABILITY
Walker says conversations around topics like lean manufacturing and continuous improvement are fairly new to many businesses in New Zealand.
He names world class manufacturing ( WCM) and total productive maintenance ( TPM) methodologies as key recent introductions which allow for proactive and ongoing preventative maintenance, higher efficiency and standardised systems of production.
“The big change I’ve seen in the past year and a half is that teams are looking for people not just to do reactive maintenance, but to put in place total preventative maintenance. TPM is becoming a big thing. Along with that comes a lot of upskilling and staff training, where you’re training people up to particular standards. Obviously as you go into export, you need to have a certain level of traceability for the retailers or the end user, and most quality management jobs I recruit, that’s what they’re doing. It’s about putting in place a system where they can get to the root cause of problems and provide traceability for customers.”
IN-DEMAND MANUFACTURING SKILLS
There are three main skill sets Walker lists as being currently in demand when it comes to manufacturing staff.
“One is around engagement, so empowering the workforce, engaging them to make changes, upskilling operators to become team leaders, that kind of thing.”
Walker says in this area, people may be expected to bring things like continuous improvement skills, Six Sigma certification and a background in lean manufacturing.
“The second area we recruit a lot is quality management – ISO accreditations, systems implementation and traceability for customers,” he says.
“That’s predominantly because a company has realised they’ve turned over twenty times as much as they were doing 10 years ago and now want to sell into Woolworths or similar. The big buyers expect to be able to know who touched what, and when, and how long it sat for.”
The other in-demand role Walker is often asked to seek staff for is engineering managers.
“That’s not reactive maintenance stuff, it’s more proper systems implementation, preventative maintenance schemes, really what the rest of the world will view as best class.”
WHERE ARE STAFF COMING FROM?
Although most employers would be thrilled to take on only local workers, says Walker, increasingly they’re becoming more open to sourcing staff from elsewhere. The newer focus on global best practice manufacturing concepts means there aren’t always locals available with the right skills.
“Increasingly through last year, we brought people in especially from Australia, but a big trend is returning Kiwis, guys who’ve gone and worked abroad, who are coming back home and trying to find a company that’s got the right level of aspiration compared to where they’ve been.”
Walker says the industry has a fairly candidate-driven market, so while employers may be very keen on an exact match when they bring someone in, flexibility might be needed in terms of the type of employment package that’s offered.
“Companies know they don’t really have a lot of choice, so if someone comes along and they might want to have a degree funded, or do an MBA, then employers are more willing to do that now.”
SOFT FIT IMPORTANT ON BOTH SIDES
One of the big selling points many companies are using when it comes to seeking the right staff is opportunity for development and autonomous conditions, according to Walker.
He says, “[Employers] are saying, ‘over here, you can make change’. I think many companies are giving people more autonomy than, say, the C-suite types, and at the same time, they’re willing to pay pretty good salaries to attract people.”
Walker sees increasingly that smaller companies are trying to attract people from multinational manufacturing giants, and staff are often happy to make that move.
“They say, ‘I’d rather go and work for a smaller player, at a place where I can have a bit more flexibility, a bit more autonomy’.”
Both employers and candidates have a strong focus on whether someone’s a good softer fit for a company, says Walker. “Candidates do really have to prove they’re a good fit in terms of culture. Half of an interview might be around experience and skills, but the rest is very much around values, ethics, and what does a person value in terms of his or her approach.”
THE NEXT FEW YEARS IN MANUFACTURING
The current adoption of more lean manufacturing principles and best practice is set to continue, says Walker, with a possible decline in demand for handson quality inspection roles.
“People are starting to look at quality as being entwined in production now. It used to be an afterthought, where a team of people were doing manual inspection of products or parts at the end of the process. Now they’re relying more on the front end, where production is about you as an operator needing to check for quality.”
Automation is likely to become an increasing factor in manufacturing, too. The idea of a company being able to expand production and efficiency by investing in the latest machine technology is very attractive, Walker says.
He adds that with more automation, “Companies will have more need for people such as project engineers and CAPEX experts, and less need for process people.”