Sarnz: Migrant scaffolders needed to fuel building boom

The building industry's shortage of highly trained scaffolders has become critical, Burke says.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

The building industry's shortage of highly trained scaffolders has become critical, Burke says.

New Zealand needs to urgently woo more highly-qualified scaffolders from overseas, the head of an industry body says.

Graham Burke, chief executive of Scaffolding, Access and Rigging New Zealand (SARNZ), said the Government should address a "glaring omission" and acknowledge a shortage of workers with advanced scaffolder qualifications in its list of skilled occupations. 

Scaffolding is included on Immigration NZ's Canterbury skills shortage, and the immediate skills shortage lists, but not on its long term skilled shortages list or list of skilled occupations.

Burke said New Zealand has a critical shortage of advanced level scaffolders – an NCEA level five qualification - and it was delaying residential, commercial and industrial projects in the booming construction sector.

READ MORE: Skilled scaffold workers becoming harder to find

"The sector is working to recruit and train as many New Zealand scaffolders as possible but it is a lengthy process - taking one to two years to become an elementary scaffolder and another two to become advanced," Burke said.

"But when I contacted Immigration New Zealand about this I was told the advanced qualification isn't an essential qualification for scaffolders.

"That isn't correct – there is a legal requirement for scaffolders to hold a certificate of competence for the appropriate class, and many of the scaffolds needed for the industrial, commercial and civil sectors require an advanced scaffold certificate."

More than 80 per cent of SARNZ members already cite skills shortages as their biggest challenge, Burke said. Advanced scaffolders were in such short supply, training organisations were struggling to find tutors.

"Immigration NZ needs to address this so that highly skilled scaffolders, including those already working here on visas, have a path to residence as skilled migrants," he said.

The call to import more scaffolders is also supported by the head of one of the country's commercial construction companies.

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Rick Herd, chief executive of Naylor Love, said just last week he had been a site where there were 12 scaffolders and the consensus was the job needed 12 more, "but the qualified and experienced people just are not there".

He agreed the lack of scaffolders probably was delaying projects and while it was never allowed to become a health and safety issue at his firm, it could certainly slow things down.

"There's a constant need to adjust the scaffolding ... So if you've got to wait for half a day to get the scaffold adjusted to put a window in, for example, that can have a real impact and it creates inefficiencies right through the system."

When approached for comment, Immigration NZ did not directly address why advanced scaffolders were not on the long term skill shortage list for migrants.

A spokesperson said the skills shortage lists were a result of "extensive consultation with  industry groups, other stakeholders and relevant government agencies alongside analysis of economic, labour market and immigration data".

The lists were reviewed and updated regularly and the review process aimed to find balance between making it easy for employers to source foreign workers where there are shortages and encouraging employers to use local workers.

Employers wanting to bring in migrant workers for occupations not listed on the immediate or long term skills shortage lists may do so if suitable New Zealanders are not available, the spokesperson said.

 - Stuff

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