Skills demands will be a problem

TAMLYN STEWART
Last updated 08:19 14/01/2013

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Christchurch will likely only need between 10,000 and 15,000 additional workers for the rebuild, far fewer than original estimates of about 30,000.

Demand for workers is expected to peak in the fourth quarter of 2014.

That's according to the construction sector workforce group's draft plan for the Christchurch rebuild, released last month, which cites labour demand modelling as at September last year.

The plan says it is likely the bulk of these additional 10,000-15,000 workers will be people already working in the region or people who move to Christchurch from elsewhere in the country.

However for certain occupations, demand will outstrip the nationally available supply, and immigration will be "essential" to meet the demand for trades like carpenters and joiners, painters, concreters, plasterers, bricklayers and stonemasons.

Canterbury Employment and Skills Board chairman Alex Bouma said the reduced estimate of workers needed was due to delays in repair programmes starting which meant the rebuild would be more "staggered" than originally forecast, with less overlap of repair programmes, which meant fewer workers would be needed.

Previous estimates of workers needed for the rebuild have ranged from an original 30,000, to more recent estimates of 20,000 to 17,000.

Bouma said the previous forecasts were based on modelling done before the December 23 quake, and that quake had delayed the timeframe for the rebuild by about six to 12 months.

"I think a lot of the insurance companies at the time pulled back and said we need to wait for some of the seismic activity to subside. And because that was a substantial aftershock with quite a gap, I think it really did slow things down.

"We were calling that the repair programmes were going to be starting to ramp up mid last year.

"You're really seeing a six to 12-month delay crept in to the original model."

Also firms were doing more pre-fabrication outside of Canterbury, using construction sector capacity elsewhere in New Zealand, which reduced the number of workers needed in the region.

Bouma said the "additional workers" would be a mix of locals, people in training, people from elsewhere in New Zealand as well as overseas workers.

Many major companies had put a lot of planning into their capacity now, he said.

"Companies are starting to get their heads around the fact you can't just switch on a workforce that doesn't exist.

"There's a lot of work being done around accommodation options, around staggering, and how you bring in migrants to help with the work, and much firmer support for training programmes."

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It was very difficult to know what proportion of workers would be from overseas but inevitably workers would be needed from other countries.

"We are starting to see quite a significant proportion of migrants coming in to help, we are also seeing a lot of people going in to training.

"The work programmes are really well under way now and they are starting to accelerate."

Recommendations in the construction sector draft plan for meeting the demand for extra labour include construction employers working together to pool available labour that all employers could draw on as needed; an anti-poaching agreement; a marketing campaign to attract tradespeople from outside the region and a construction co-ordination panel to implement the plan in the region.

Accommodation for additional workers is still a concern.

The construction sector workforce plan is part of the Labour Market Recovery Programme which accompanies the Economic Recovery Programme for Greater Canterbury.

The plan identifies skill shortages that may be worsened by more attractive wages in Auckland than in Christchurch.

In September last year average wage rates were reportedly $5 to $10 per hour higher in Auckland and in future affordable accommodation may be easier to find there than in Christchurch.

To address likely skills shortage the plan recommends the "Skills for Canterbury" contingency item in the 2012 Budget be used for innovative training; existing skills and labour be used more effectively to reduce waste and reduce the need for additional workers; and a more inclusive recruitment approach - including more women, the recently retired, Maori and Pasifika people, Samoan Quota migrants and people with disabilities.

It also recommends skills for industry programmes between construction employers and Work and Income; a local panel of public and private sector representatives set up by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to assess the flow of labour in the region and to advise decision makers on timely changes to the Canterbury Skills Shortage List, and construction employers to commit to using the new Skills and Employment Hub to check whether there are New Zealanders available for jobs.

If no one is available the hub can refer employers to Immigration NZ for fast- tracking visa applications to bring in migrants.

WORKFORCE PLAN

Additional workers needed for the rebuild: Estimated 10,000 - 15,000 local and overseas workers.

Sector concerns:

Uncertainty about when the rebuild will escalate and unpredictable "deal flow".

A lack of collaboration and co-ordination which result in inefficiences and higher costs.

Scarce labour supply. Poaching is becoming more common and driving up costs.

Skill shortages are likely to escalate over the coming months and years.

Unpredictable workflows.

Social issues - stress, lack of support networks for migrant workers.

Accommodation.

Quality of workforce.

The Licensed Building Practitioner scheme is too onerous for simple building projects.

Some smaller firms may be unfamiliar with business practices related to employing more staff.

- The Press

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