Canty leads job confidence

Cantabrians are the most confident in the country about their employment chances, buoyed by the post-earthquake rebuild, a new survey shows.

Both Christchurch and Auckland jobseekers are finding opportunities, though the jobless outside the main centres are still worried about their chances, a Westpac McDermott Miller survey conducted at the start of December, reveals.

While New Zealand has been dubbed the "rockstar" economy, employees around the country are only a marginally positive about their employment prospects.

The Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index rose to 103.4 in the December 2013 quarter nationwide from 102.8 in the September quarter. An index number over 100 indicates that optimists outnumber pessimists.

This is the second-highest reading of the last two years though still a very subdued level compared to the pre-recession trend.

While Canterbury employers are cautiously increasing their hiring, they have a greater expectation that reconstruction will ramp up steadily rather than at a furious pace, one recruitment firm boss says.

Employment confidence in Canterbury rose to 115 in December from 113.1 in September, the most positive in the country.

But nationwide households' views of the availability of jobs remained substantially negative, Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said.

"That fits with the observation that while the New Zealand economy was gathering a head of steam over 2013, it was still running short of full capacity."

There were signs conditions were gradually improving for jobseekers, Stephens said, giving Westpac more confidence the unemployment rate would break below the 6-7 per cent range over the coming year.

Kevin Eder, managing director of Tradestaff, said there was "good news" for job seekers in Christchurch and Auckland, though other regions were patchy in terms of prospects.

Wellington jobs were being created as the city's commercial landlords conducted earthquake strengthening work and as employers got ready for projects including the $1.3 billion Transmission Gully motorway project.

In Christchurch, employers were aware that predictions made in 2011 and 2012 of the hiring of massive numbers of rebuild workers, up to 30,000 extra people, had not come immediately true. Bosses were cautiously optimistic.

"They are all preparing for what they know will be a very, very busy period. If there's a lesson they've all learnt in the last two to three years, that is not to get too excited too quickly."

While there was some anecdotal talk about wage increases to match increased demand for workers, those rises were not large, but rather "50 cents an hour here, a $1 an hour there," Eder said.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said it was not surprising to see some reticence still in the employment sector, given Christchurch was just at the beginning of the reconstruction phase of the city rebuild.

"It's going to take another three months I think before you start seeing more confidence being built in and more jobs . . . we're about 8 per cent into the rebuild, there's a lot of uncertainty about getting insurance finalised, getting resource consent sorted."

As demand for workers increased substantially there would be upward pressure on wages, he added.

Simon Graham, of recruitment agency Graham Consulting, said employers from a large number of sectors had come back in 2014 confident they would be hiring.

"It looks like it's going to start pretty strongly . . . what's interesting, though, is that jobseekers are equally confident, their view definitely is that there are going to be more positions created in the next 12 months than they've seen for a while."

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon said in other South Island regions, including Otago and Southland, confidence fell, with the rebuild not having a flow-on effects to the rest of the South Island.

The Press