Challenge: Attracting talent to Southland

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2014

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Strong business confidence is giving Southland employers more work but a shortage of skilled employees has bosses crying out for a strategy to fix the problem.

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Sean Woodward said there had been a change in the labour market, and businesses were finding it more difficult to find experienced and skilled employees.

There was strong demand in Southland for skilled employees such as diesel mechanics, electricians and professional service roles such as lawyers and accountants.

"Most sectors we speak to are busy and have good work flows in the pipeline. Some businesses are booked into 2015. We think business confidence has every reason to be strong in the South."

But there was concern at the lack of skilled workers to fill those jobs, Woodward said. The chamber was focused on strategic initiatives to ensure strong business continued in the long term.

Woodward, who is a partner at Preston Russell Law, said the firm was currently advertising three roles and had received about 50 job applications. However, finding the right skilled people for Southland jobs was challenging.

Garages and transport companies contacted by The Southland Times all said they found it difficult to attract skilled mechanics.

Motor Trade Association Otago and Southland business manager Michelle Findlater said there was a shortage of mechanics in the region, and spokesman Ian Stronach said employers nationally were crying out for mechanics because there were more fleets of vehicles and it was harder to encourage young people to take up the trade.

There was such a shortage, there was a lot of "poaching" going on, he said.

EIS chief executive and chamber member Dean Addie said there was a shortage of skilled workers in most sectors, and the construction and industrial sectors were no exception.

His company employed about 50 electricians and engineers, and was struggling to find more. "A year ago the placement time was around 30 days.

The placement time is now closer to 90 days, if, in fact, someone can be found at all," he said. It had become

increasingly difficult to locate and attract talent to Southland, and a strategy was needed to entice workers.

"There are close to 30 empty shops in the [Invercargill] CBD. If you were an employment prospect, you would more than likely think you were in Detroit and that would make you want to leave. Action is required now," Addie said.

Electrical companies and training agencies spoken to said there was a strong demand for apprentices to keep up with the amount of work in the region. Much of the work stemmed from the dairy sector.

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Southland Master Builders president Kerry Archer said although there was no current shortage of construction workers, he expected there would be soon.

"Everyone is getting busier and the workloads are increasing in a more positive economy."

Venture Southland enterprise services manager Alistair Adam said a skills shortage was driven by industry needs. The first option for employers was to look at the Southland workforce and upskill if required, and then to look around New Zealand and overseas.

Venture had previously held migrants attraction programmes in Auckland and Britain but for the past five years there had been no demand for it.

It planned to update its 2008 Southland workforce strategy on how to attract skilled workers to the region. 

- The Southland Times

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