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Skilled scaffold workers becoming harder to find

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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A nationwide shortage of skilled scaffolders could stall New Zealand's booming construction sector unless the Government takes action, industry insiders have warned.

Increased demand for scaffolding, fuelled by the Christchurch rebuild and Auckland's booming housing market, had placed increased pressure on scaffolding companies to find skilled labour.

Customers were also being affected, facing weeks of delays to hire scaffolders, and increased prices.

Auckland property manager Marc Beaumont said he tried to hire scaffolding for a relatively small job three weeks ago and was still waiting for a confirmed date.

"I've struggled to even hear back from companies. When you've got small jobs they're really not interested," Beaumont said.

Scaffolding and Rigging industry president Chris Douglas said it was a constant struggle for scaffolding companies to find the skilled labour needed to keep up with demand.

"There's a heck of a lot of pressure on companies to keep up with the demand coming in," Douglas said.

A shortage in skilled scaffolding labour had the potential to slow growth of the whole construction sector. The Government needed to put scaffolding on the long-term skill shortage list (LTSSL) to avert a crisis, he said.

"As the economy increases there's only going to be more pressure put on the skills shortage across the whole industry."

The LTSSL identified occupations where there was an ongoing shortage of highly skilled workers both globally and in New Zealand.

Overseas workers filling LTSSL occupations could be granted a work visa and after two years certain visa holders became eligible to apply for residence.

Scaffolding companies in Auckland and Christchurch were the most affected but soon it would be a nationwide problem.

Scaffolding was on Immigration New Zealand's Immediate Skill Shortage List and the Canterbury Skill Shortage List which offered only short-term visas.

Immigration New Zealand said there was no evidence of a sustained and continuing shortage of highly skilled workers in New Zealand.

More than 50 advertisements for skilled scaffolders were listed on Trade Me.

John Scott, a director of Auckland company Summit Scaffolding, said it employed staff from Britain and Ireland but some were going home because there was high demand for scaffolders there as well.

"At the moment we're just keeping our head above water but over the next two to three years we're going to have real problems.

"We've gone from a deflated market to a buoyant market. It's like someone has flicked a switch on."

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Nick Pfahlert, a director of Christchurch company Upright Scaffolding, said finding skilled scaffolders in Christchurch was extremely difficult.

"It's a constant battle."

Upright Scaffolding specialised in technical infrastructure and commercial projects, which required certified scaffolders who could work at a high standard.

"They're very difficult to come by."

- BusinessDay

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