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A day in the life of an economist – Shaun Twaddle

I recently read a funny Facebook post that quipped “Be warned – if you’re in your 40s then your retirement is going to be funded by the generation currently playing Pokémon GO”.

The joke’s in the negative stereotype of millennials who are supposedly walking off cliffs or into trees instead of readying themselves for a life of work.  While of course this stereotype is unfair, New Zealand, like many other developed countries, has to address the education and skills training needs of our young people if we hope to get them work-ready.

This week is Got a Trade Week, an awareness week promoting the campaign Got a Trade? Got it Made! Infometrics are proud sponsors of this national campaign to raise awareness of on-the-job training and career opportunities in New Zealand’s trades and services.

Infometrics Senior Economist Shaun Twaddle is actively involved with Got a Trade? and the industry training organisations that manage this campaign.  Shaun has worked extensively with tertiary education providers, industry training organisations, industry associations and bodies focussing on understanding the issues around workforce development, current and future workforce demands and the supply of skilled labour.

We chat with Shaun in our regular feature “A day in the life of an Economist” and ask him about his work and particular about the Got a Trade? campaign.

Bio – Shaun Twaddle

Studied at: Victoria University (BCA in Economics and Public Policy; BA in Political Science and International Relations), Massey University (BA (Hons) in Political Studies)

Resides in: Wellington

Jacqui: Can you tell us about the Got a Trade? campaign? What are the issues that you see it addressing?

Shaun: The Got a Trade? Got it Made! campaign showcases the opportunities that the trades and services sectors present young people.  Got a Trade directly and indirectly tackles a number of the workforce and productivity issues that New Zealand faces, particularly in terms of youth disengagement, workforce development and job matching.

University is perceived as the ‘Plan-A’ career paths for young people and their parents.  Despite this view, only 28 percent of school leavers go to university.  Given the growing proportion of recent university graduates who are now retraining in sectors such as building, the Got a Trade campaign aims to pique young people’s interest in the trades, before they get locked into the university system and finding out that it is not for them.

In addition, more than 34,000 young New Zealanders are not working, studying or training.  These people are not developing the skills required to participate in the current and future workforce.  Got a Trade showcases many of the practical opportunities available to these young people.

Andrew Robertson, chairperson of the Got a Trade campaign this year outlines some of these issues in an interview with Paul Henry earlier on in the week: click to hear the interview.

JC: What are some of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand decision makers and employers and how can the work you do at Infometrics help?

ST: Productivity levels in New Zealand are low by international standards.  This is nothing new.  Various think tanks of taskforces have tried to solve this issue, but at the end of the day if it was easy it would have been done already.  This said, in my mind, one of the key areas where New Zealand can make big gains in terms of productivity in around workforce development – both from a national and industry viewpoint.

Take the construction sector as an example – we are currently training too few people.  This should hopefully not be surprising, especially given the sector is cyclical and therefore has peaks and troughs.  With appropriate workforce planning, many of these skill matching issues could have been mitigated and our overall productivity levels improved.

At Infometrics we provide information about the current and future demand for labour at a detailed level.  We also have a good understanding of the current and future supply of labour coming through the wider education system.  With this information we can inform clients of potential future skills mismatches and workforce challenges at a sector level and enable them to develop strategies and plans to reduce mismatches.

JC: If you were a millennial starting your career in New Zealand, what advice would you give yourself?

ST: I would give myself three pieces of advice:

  • Follow your heart. Various studies have shown that young people are more likely to be successful at work when they doing something they are passionate about.
  • Don’t box yourself in at a young age.  The skills employers are looking for now are quite different to what they were when I was a kid, and will continue to change in the future.  Develop a broad range of skills that can be applied across a range of jobs.
  • Recognise that qualifications only get you so far.  While employers value formal qualifications, they also place a lot of weight on ‘softer skills’ such as work ethic, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

Would millennial me listen to future me?… well, that’s the problem that many parents face.

JC: What is your background and how has this influenced your work at Infometrics?

ST: I left school and studied economics. Not because I had a burning passion to do so, but because I had a teacher at secondary school who made economics engaging. Luckily after a couple of years I really started to enjoy economics, not for the numbers but because of the problem solving techniques and tools it provides.

On graduating from university I worked in the public sector in roles that largely focused on New Zealand’s labour market and regional economies.  This provided me with a strong understanding of many of the opportunities and challenges in New Zealand.

After leaving the public sector, I became a policy manager at an industry training organisation (ITO) and then the Industry Training Federation (the peak body of ITOs).  This gave me a greater appreciation of labour supply in New Zealand, the challenges faced by both industry and government and the disconnect between the two in terms of a cohesive workforce development strategy.

This background has a huge influence on my work at Infometrics, which I largely focus on ensuring that industries as sectors have robust information to inform their planning, particularly around their workforces.

JC: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

ST: I enjoy long distance running and over the past few years have competed in a number of running events.  I also like undertaking (perhaps a few too many) building projects.  My current (if you can call 2 years current) project is building a retaining wall to double the size of our back yard.  It is 90% finished, so should be fully completed by 2020.

I also have three lovely small kids (and a Cavoodle!), so my time for the above is increasingly becoming squeezed by their activities. Just quietly – sometimes I enjoy coming into work!

JC: What is an intriguing fact about you?

ST: I am no literary genius and have made many faux pas in this area.  For example, I once naïvely found out the hard way at a work function that Pride and Prejudice was a book, not just a movie. Who knew?  Ask me to name New Zealand Prime Ministers however, and you may have to pull up a chair.

JC: Thank you Shaun, for taking the time to tell us about yourself and the "Got a Trade?" campaign.

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