'There are jobs there every day'

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 13:31 24/07/2013

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Contract labour company AWF Group is beefing up recruitment of skilled trade immigrants in response to a shortage of skilled Kiwi workers, chief executive Mike Huddleston told the annual meeting in Auckland today.

"There's a growing shortage of good temporary staff with a positive work attitude," he said.

From late last year there had been a significant upturn in work across Auckland due to the resurgent housing market and several large infrastructure projects generating strong demand for tradespeople, labourers and traffic management staff, Huddleston said.

There was also high demand for skilled tradespeople in Christchurch as the rebuild got under way, he said.

However, the skills shortage in New Zealand has forced the company to look further afield - in particular in Britain, he said.

The company plans to bring back 100 skilled immigrants out of the 600 who applied in the first round of a British recruitment drive.

It had already hired immigrant workers in Christchurch, Huddleston said.

"There are jobs there every day."

AWF advertised 150 jobs on Trade Me each day, and moved 1500 temporary contractors into permanent roles every year, he said.

AWF's annual net profit after tax for the year ending March 31 rose 17.5 per cent to $5.4 million, after removing the net one-off impact of the sale of Panacea Healthcare.

The company's balance sheet carries no debt.

AWF operates 36 business units out of 33 branches in 22 towns and cities across New Zealand.

In the past couple of years, AWF has bought new businesses including Panacea Healthcare which it sold in July last year, Nursing New Zealand, the Waihi-based AWF Mourant gold mining operations, and Tradeforce NZ, which provides skilled temporary staff to manufacturers, warehouses and food processors.

The company was looking at further acquisitions as part of its growth strategy but these would not include the aged-care sector, shareholders were told.

Founding director Simon Hull said the sale of Panacea marked the company's exit from the aged-care sector which he said was resistant to change.

"It left us with mixed feelings."

Huddleston said all divisions of the business continued to experience solid growth during the past year in an increasingly positive employment market.

While rural regions had shown slower growth due to the drought, Wellington had witnessed a degree of recovery and Christchurch and Auckland had shown particular strength from growth in construction, infrastructure development and manufacturing, he said.

The strong demand in Auckland and Christchurch was not yet matched in the capital.

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"Unfortunately, Wellington and construction are not really synonymous."

However, that could change if the recent earthquake was anything to go by, he added.

Shareholders received a final dividend of 9.2 cents per share to total 15.6c per share for the year, an increase of 20 per cent.

A one-off special dividend of 3c per share was paid, reflecting about 75 per cent of the cash profit on the Panacea sale.

AWF shares are trading at $3.10, up from $2.52 at the time of last year's annual meeting but below the peak of $3.40 in May after the release of the company's full-year results.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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