Development of Industry Brand Critical to Manufacturing Sector Growth – Expert

New Zealand manufacturers need to address systemic image issues to attract more workers to the sector, according to a marketing expert.

The call comes following a recent Government study into the manufacturing industry which found the sector has a capacity gap of 17,000 roles – with the size of this gap likely to grow 38% to 40,000 workers within five years if action is not taken.

Researchers found widespread agreement across the manufacturing, engineering, and food & beverage sectors the most effective way of reducing the future impact of skills shortages is to promote sector awareness to attract future talent.

Mark Devlin, director at strategic communications and marketing consulting firm Impact PR, one of the more industry specialised PR agencies New Zealand manufacturers can utilise to grow their brand awareness, says the study’s findings show there is a growing need for the sector to reposition itself. 

He says the reputation of the sector is at stake due to a historical view that it is comprised of low-wage and low-skilled roles.

“The research shows that the manufacturing industry lacks the aspirational appeal needed to attract and retain workers from other sectors of the economy that compete for the same skill set.

”This may be at least in part due to the fact many Kiwi manufacturers are primarily export-focused and have not seen the need to develop a local consumer-facing brand. 

“Since the pandemic, we have seen a seismic shift in demand for workers in the sector and with the growing realisation that these skills are highly transferable, they are now competing heavily with other industries for talent.

Devlin, whose agency has represented dozens of New Zealand manufacturers over the past two decades, says the repositioning of the industry needs to be done at both a macro and micro level with individual manufacturers needing to align their campaign messages with those of the wider sector.

“Regardless of the industry, any marketing campaign needs to understand what motivates their target consumer. 

“When it comes to the choice of employment these drivers are likely to vary across individuals and also evolve as their career and life stage progresses; however being part of an employee-focused workplace is likely to be one of them.

“At a local level, even those businesses who are solely focused on the export market need to build their local brand to maintain their recruitment pipeline.

“We have seen value in businesses showcasing their employee wellness and community support initiatives. 

“One client had built a raised garden network on site that was helping staff grow their own organic fruit and vegetables at work, along with harvesting honey, and providing more than 150kg of fresh produce per person annually – saving each household thousands of dollars and helping to offset the cost of living. 

“While this initiative was started with the genuine desire to help staff, we were able to leverage this to generate nationwide TV, print and digital coverage to help build and reinforce their position as a supportive employer,” he says.

Devlin says that prospective employees will usually research a workplace before applying for a position with the firm.

”It’s important that businesses step into the shoes of jobseekers and evaluate whether the first page of search results delivers the messaging they want to portray to the market. 

“We know that a potential employee will look beyond a company’s website to third-party sources of information – such as news sites.

“This is where the services of a public relations agency experienced in the manufacturing sector can be of value; they, they can create content for news media that highlights the level of innovation and success the firm has in the domestic or export markets. 

Devlin says that in addition to building the brand locally these positive news articles are a key credibility signal for overseas customers. 

“We are seeing a lot of demand from manufacturers exporting to China. There is lower trust in media in that market and Kiwi businesses can use news content in NZ media titles as a third-party endorsement of their business. 

“The communication model works the same for potential employees when they do their research on a firm they are looking beyond the company’s website and digital platforms which are seen as subjective and at what other people are saying about the company,” he says.

Greg Smith, CEO of wool carpet manufacturer Bremworth and client of Impact PR, says the development of a positive consumer-facing brand is an essential element in their recruitment and retention strategy. 

“To attract and retain staff in a highly competitive environment, we need to be able to bring our team members along with us on our purpose-driven journey. 

“In our case, the company exited the synthetic carpet market three years ago to focus only on utilising New Zealand’s high-performing wool fibre in its products.

“Part of this process is the communication of our brand story using an ongoing public relations strategy to raise awareness of our mission to reduce the volume of plastic waste entering the environment – through the use of biodegradable, natural and renewable wool as an alternative to synthetics.

“We know this message resonates with prospective staff members who understand their work will contribute to a better future for New Zealand,” he says.

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