Future economic growth in the Bay of Plenty depends heavily on the educational success of its people. While its new Tauranga Campus is taking shape in the city’s CBD, behind the scenes the University is working closely with businesses across the Bay to help meet the region’s skills needs, foster innovation and ensure qualifications are industry-relevant.
In particular, the University has been working closely with regional economic development agency Priority One.
“The University is a key partner in Priority One’s development strategy. Our purpose is to grow high value jobs in the region and we do this through innovation and supporting development of the region’s innovation ecosystem,” says Greg Simmonds, Chief Operating Officer at Priority One.
An important focus is keeping abreast of changing industry needs and putting in place initiatives that will ensure the future labour force develops skills in line with the region’s competitive strengths. This includes both the attraction of skills and talent as well as ‘growing our own’ through secondary and tertiary education opportunities.
“Education, including research and development (R&D) capability, is a critical component in regional innovation and driving sustainable economic development. It provides the intellectual input to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in our businesses.”
The mutual benefits of work placements and internships
One business that is reaping the benefits of working with the University is Trimax Mowing Systems, an internationally successful, family-owned company which designs, develops, manufactures and distributes tractor-powered mowers.
Trimax has run two summer student projects in recent years. They approached several universities, but Head of Design and Innovation Jason Low says Waikato was proactive, and it’s a relationship which has proven fruitful.
“They found me a great selection of applicants and we managed to attract some really smart and talented students. Each time we have hired two students with different majors so they have complementary strengths, which has allowed us to explore R&D priorities with a new approach. We give the students as much ownership as possible and mentor them over the course of their 10-week projects.”
One of these students, who recently completed a Master of Mechanical Engineering, has now been hired to work with Trimax full-time, says Jason. “Having him working on his Masters project with us has been hugely valuable. Our relationship with the University of Waikato has resulted in an exciting new team member.”
Over the past year, the University has collaborated with members of the Bay’s business community, hosting events to demonstrate the linkages between qualifications and career opportunities. These industry-focused events also showcase how university work placements can benefit businesses.
Mike Bell, Acting Chair of the Tauranga branch of IT Professionals NZ, and Head of Business Development at custom software development company Think, feels these events help open doors to a future pool of IT professionals and other potential business opportunities.
“The University plays a huge role in the community and in the shaping of our future workforce,” he says. “At the 2018 Study Options Fair I was able to challenge and support ideas of students I spoke to and give them an insight into the world of work, hopefully allowing them to put some perspective alongside their passion for their potential careers.”
In conjunction with Priority One, the University also hosted a number of breakfast workshops, bringing together local businesses and Deans from the University’s Management and Engineering Faculties to help develop academic and research provision which meets the needs of local business and the community.
“The desire of the University to engage industry professionals shows an openness to keep qualifications relevant,” Mike Bell says. “This type of collaboration ensures that students are better equipped to enter business in terms of skills and understanding. The benefits to the region are obvious – we are more likely to draw talent to the area as well as retain local talent, promoting growth and confidence in the local community and economy.”
Gavin Frost, Regional Manager at Beca, shares a similar sentiment after participating in workshops relating to aligning the Bachelor of Engineering programme with industry needs. “Businesses will benefit from the availability of highly skilled graduates, who bring fresh methods, ideas and ways of thinking. As we look to evolve the way we deliver our work, graduates are well placed to help with the shift,” he says.
Research and Innovation
To help foster innovation within the region, the University and Priority One partnered to create a joint Innovation Management position in recent years. Shane Stuart, who holds the role, says that university and business research collaborations are an essential part of growing a knowledge-based economy.
"Research collaboration is particularly important in helping bring advanced skills to, and growing them from, the region. It means there are people with world-class capability and networks in areas of importance to the region."
The University has a number of research collaborations across the region that demonstrate these benefits. These include the Rotorua Lakes restoration, where University scientists have worked closely with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and other stakeholders on a world-leading programme of research improving freshwater lake quality. Engineering researchers from Waikato are supporting local company Robotics Plus to develop a world-leading autonomous orchard robot. The University has also been a long-term collaborator in advanced manufacturing and the development of new technologies for powder metallurgy and titanium alloys, which has involved a number of local businesses. Finally, researchers from the Coastal Marine Field Station, based in Sulphur Point, have been collaborating with a range of stakeholders in the assessment and management of the wreck of the Rena, health of harbour ecosystems and development of new algal biotechnologies.
For more than 20 years, the University’s growth in the Bay has been built upon a collaborative approach with community, iwi, industry, local authorities and education partners. Partnership is, and will continue to be, fundamental to the region’s growth and success, Simmonds says.
"We're creating an environment that is a magnet for the growth, attraction and retention of highly-skilled, entrepreneurial, ambitious and energetic people, with the opportunities to take smart thinking and innovation to new levels that have global impact."
Now the University has a new campus in Tauranga, its relationships with the community will only continue to get stronger.