Battling to work in boomtime

Christchurch employment breakdown
Christchurch employment breakdown

Andrew Dimond struggled to find a job for 12 months before he found temporary work at a local emergency care organisation.

In 2013, Dimond, 42, applied for about 50 jobs with organisations like the Christchurch City Council (CCC), the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), and Statistics New Zealand.

He also contacted about five recruitment agencies. The result? About 15 interviews, and only one job offer for three months as a community leader.

Dimond's resume showcases experience with people with disabilities and team management here and overseas. He says he has transferrable skills that can apply to many managerial positions. However, he says he experienced fierce competition.

"I recently applied for a job with the CDHB where 165 people applied."

With reports of a booming economy and near full employment, Dimond said he was surprised finding a job was so hard.

"The general spin seems to be that Canterbury is booming, but this appears to be in some fairly specific areas."

Statistics New Zealand employment figures released this week show Canterbury's unemployment rate has plunged to 3.4 per cent from last year's 4.9 per cent.

Statistics show 19,200 more are employed compared to a year ago. But a closer look at the figures reveals that most of the increase in Canterbury's employment comes from the retail and hospitality sector (+ 7600) and the construction industry (+7400).

Recruitment professionals say the rebuild and the return of retail and hospitality outlets have driven job growth in the region, but it does not mean it is jobs galore for everyone.


The Canterbury rebuild has created more construction and trade jobs than the region can provide. But with most companies' head offices in Wellington, Auckland, or overseas, executive and manager roles have remained at a similar level.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures show the main source of new vacancies are in technicians and trades categories, while professionals and managers have remained largely unchanged in the year to September 2013.

Graham Ewing, owner of executive search and selection management consultancy EQI Global, says the rebuild has not created new executive jobs in Canterbury.

"If you look at the rebuild, it's attracted everything to do with design and construction. It has brought in project managers, technical supervisors, but no senior executives. The rebuild hasn't impacted at all on the senior executive market."

Ewing says the market for executive roles has been stable and consistent for a long time. " It's a very small market and has always been."

Randstad operations manager for Christchurch Penni Hlaca confirms senior roles are in short supply. "We are seeing a lot of skilled candidates at a senior level who are finding it hard to find a good role."

Hays New Zealand managing director Jason Walker says companies involved in the rebuild often have head offices elsewhere. He also reports a decline in processing roles following investments from businesses in new IT infrastructure.

A quick survey of two large local employers' careers section of the website shows few executive positions are advertised. The CCC advertises for 38 jobs on its site, including four administration jobs, and seven management jobs.

The CDHB's Careers site advertises for a total of 79 jobs, including 10 in administration, and one in management/executive.

And not only are top jobs in short supply, but recruitment agencies have reported that local businesses do not always find the skills they need at a local level for specialised positions. Walker says employers are looking overseas.

"Canterbury has always been very parochial. Employers in the region are keen on securing local applicants - they like people who have a strong understanding of the local market and have good relationships. However, there has been a short supply of the type of local candidates they are looking for."

As a result, Walker says Hays last year recruited almost two third of its applicants overseas in countries including Ireland, UK, the Philippines, and India.

Walker says people might apply for these specialised jobs feeling like they have the experience, but when they do not, "they don't get a lot of transparency on why they've missed out. So they can walk away feeling disappointed."


The rebuild has fuelled confidence in the local economy, and more people from overseas and from here are applying for jobs.

In addition, Work and Income says welfare reforms in 2013 meant more people had to look for a part time or full time job. As a result, finding a job, even at entry level, can prove difficult.

Kylie Gifkins, 21, moved from Auckland to Christchurch at the end of 2012 in the hope she would find a job easily in a booming economy. However, after applying for hundreds of entry level, low paid jobs, she only found employment as a full-time caregiver in September last year.

She says she was not given the hours promised, was not provided with a uniform, and was "treated poorly". She resigned and says she has applied for at least 100 jobs in the past three months, which resulted in two interviews.

She would like a caregiving job considering her experience, but had applied for all sorts of jobs.

"I've tried all last year to find a job, I've applied for anything at all - supermarket jobs, anything that was advertised online. I was desperate for anything, really. It's so incredibly hard when the position says it's an entry level and then no one is willing to give you a chance. It's really frustrating."

Ewing says a lot of Kiwis from overseas want to come back to be involved in the rebuild. However, they are often disappointed when they realise a big part of the jobs available are low level, low pay.

Trade Me head of jobs Peter Osborne says the number of job offers have gone up in Canterbury, but in some categories the number of applicants have gone up too.

Trade Me figures for Canterbury show that office & administration jobs have dropped by 13 per cent in the December 2013 quarter compared to the year before. The number of candidates, however, has grown by 20 per cent in the same period.

In education, the contrast between job growth and number of candidates is even more striking. Jobs ads online have gone down 8 per cent in the December 2013 quarter year on year, but the number of applicants has jumped by 76 per cent.

Music teacher Hugo Zanker says there is a large oversupply of teachers nationwide.

A University of Canterbury graduate diploma in teaching and learning, Zanker has struggled to find a job after graduation, despite a 2012 teacher's degree from UC and years of experience as a professional musician overseas. He applied for about 15 positions in Canterbury in 2013, which led to two interviews and two temporary jobs.

"It took me quite a long time to find a job and when I did find a job, it was not in my subject [drama and arts rather than music], and it was a fixed-term contract, and it was part time."

He is now teaching music full time, but only for 10 weeks to replace a sabbatical.

Zanker is considering teaching privately. "It's been a year and a half that I've been looking for a decent, long-term job and I haven't found one."

Randstad also reports surplus of candidates in senior level and middle management within sales and general management.


Prominent business personalities, including Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, and Registered Master Builders chief executive Warwick Quinn, predict a massive skills shortage in 2014 in Canterbury as commercial construction projects start kicking off.

Recruitment agency Randstad also reports a shortage of candidates in Canterbury for contact centre leadership roles, recruitment and human resources roles and IT positions.

Work and Income Canterbury regional director Shane Carter says some beneficiaries might be advised to undertake training.

"There are plenty of opportunities for those who want to up-skill for a career in the construction industry - likewise, Work and Income has a range of assistance available to people moving into many fields of work."

Trade Me figures for the Canterbury region confirm the trend towards a skills shortage in the trades and other categories.

In categories including trades & services, construction & architecture, transport & logistics, and retail, the growth in the number of job advertisements in the December 2013 quarter compared to the year before was much higher than the growth in the number of applicants.

In the trades & services category, the number of job ads jumped by 50 per cent, while the number of applicants decreased by 17 per cent. In construction, the number of job ads increased by 21 per cent, but the number of applicants went down 1 per cent.

Phil Smith, 36, has retrained. He has been looking for a job since August 2012. He had never struggled to find employment in retail or customer service. But after more than six months of rejection letters and failed interviews in his field, Smith decided to enrol for a fulltime four-month course in painting and decorating at CPIT.

However, he is finding that without experience in the trades, his job hunt in this field is equally unsuccessful. "No experience means no work in the trade. I have enthusiasm and I know I can do the job, but if you don't have six months' experience, employers don't give you a chance."

He says he's applied for about 90 painting jobs since the end of the course in May 2013. He's only had one interview where the employer did not turn up and is beginning to despair. So far retraining has not delivered for him.

The Press