Employers struggle to fill jobs

New Zealand must seriously address its dearth of skilled staff instead of surviving day to day, says Lincoln Crawley, managing director of recruitment agency ManPowerGroup.

Nearly half of Kiwi employers are struggling to find key staff, up from 11 per cent last year, according to ManPower's annual Talent Shortage Survey.

The results sit well above the global average of 34 per cent and have moved past the Asia-Pacific average of 45 per cent. New Zealand was ranked eighth out of 41 countries for talent shortages, ManPower said.

The positions employers had the most problems filling were for engineers, sales reps and skilled tradespeople, a situation that the Christchurch rebuild would only make worse once it started, Crawley said.

"It's been the same for the last seven years," he said. "We don't seem to be learning from it, we still don't have the right number of skilled trades coming through, we don't have the right number of engineers and we're always short of good sales people."

Businesses had not stopped to ask what they should be doing differently to attract staff, Crawley said.

They should look at aligning their workforce and business strategies.

"Most HR [human resource] departments have really struggled to get the attention of the executive team on anything other than filling roles today."

Some solutions to ensure a more reliable supply chain of talent included options such as strategic migration and encouraging employers to engage more with schools and higher-education authorities to secure a pipeline of talent.

Another consideration could be attracting older skilled people who had left the industry and taking unskilled youth from the ranks of the unemployed.

"It's tapping into those non- traditional talent streams," Crawley said. "In order to tap into them, you've got to have a workforce strategy.

"If you're tapping into unemployed youth, there's lots of talent there but talent does not have the right skills."

Those could be provided on the job through a "teachable fit" approach - hiring candidates who met most criteria but needed further training.

Another option was to consider unbundling job roles so that highly skilled employees only undertook technical tasks, Crawley said.

Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand president Graham Darlow said there were no real surprises in the survey.

"The biggest shortage is in technicians and not professional engineers," he said.

Programmes were in place to try to increase the number of people taking up tertiary study in engineering but it took about six years from the decision to do that to becoming a useful engineer, he said. "Ultimately we work in an international labour market for engineering.

"We've put a lot of effort into international benchmarking of those standards - it makes our people very portable and so they will go to where the highest salaries are paid."

Top 10 Jobs most in demand in New Zealand in 2012

  1. Engineers (1 in 2011)
  2. Sales reps (2)
  3. Skilled trades (4)
  4. IT staff (7)
  5. Technicians (3)
  6. Accounting & finance (6)
  7. Management/executives (5)
  8. Chefs/cooks (10)
  9. Marketing/PR/ communications (N/A)
  10. Drivers (N/A)