Engineers speak out on KBE

New Zealanders should stop putting all their energy into getting a bigger slice of the economic cake and should concentrate instead on baking a bigger cake, says the CEO of the Institution of Professional Engineers in New Zealand (IPENZ).

New Zealanders should stop putting all their energy into getting a bigger slice of the economic cake and should concentrate instead on baking a bigger cake, says the CEO of the Institution of Professional Engineers in New Zealand (IPENZ).

"New Zealand's wealth ranking has slipped from third place … to 25th in the world," says Warwick Bishop in a white paper he authored on the need to move New Zealand into a knowledge-based economy (KBE). The paper can be found at the IPENZ Web site, www.ipenz.org.nz. Bishop believes New Zealand does produce enough scientists but nowhere near enough engineers, and that keeping them in New Zealand is a fundamental problem.

"New Zealand needs more technically capable people at all levels of activity, not more scientists." Bishop says education is critical to any successful move towards a KBE and having role models in secondary and tertiary institutes must be encouraged.

"A scientist, a technologist or an engineer can earn between $10,000 and $30,000 more per annum simply by moving from the classroom into industry. This lack of role models means fewer students are encouraged to become engineers at a time when we desperately need more.

"For New Zealand to even begin to become a [KBE] it will need to quickly double, and then slowly treble, the number of professional engineers".

Bishop believes New Zealand's recent bent toward producing ever increasing numbers of commerce graduates -"up 731% in the past 20 years" — will be a significant problem.

Bishop identifies three main areas that New Zealand must focus on to become a successful KBE.

"These fundamental issues are: education, finance and marketing." Bishop says wealth does not just happen, it must be created. Nations must either grow, find or make things to increase their wealth, there is no other way.

To demonstrate how New Zealand has fared, Bishop points to OECD figures on economic growth rates for the last three decades. New Zealand has dropped from 1% growth per annum to around 0.5% up to 1993.

"It will be a long time before New Zealand's 14-year averages even approach those of the other countries."

Bishop says New Zealand must change its economic emphasis to better compete, or face being left behind.

"Time is running out. The country must finish the job of restructuring the economy — especially in both the education and finance areas — in preparation for the next 100 years and beyond."

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