Christchurch needs more tradies

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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The Rebuild

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Christchurch is on the brink of a "massive skills crisis", with demand for trade roles in Canterbury expected to skyrocket over the next year, say recruiters and employers.

The flow of workers into the city cannot keep up with demand and the shortage could stall rebuild progress, they say.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is rejecting suggestions a shortage exists but Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend disagrees.

"We are right at the beginning of earthquake recovery for Canterbury. We aren't even 10 per cent into it, so we still have 90 per cent to go and I think there is no doubt we are going to face some serious constraints," he said.

Without planning from recruiting firms and accommodation providers, the lack of skilled labourers would stall the rebuild, he said. "If you don't have enough resource, it's just going to take longer. And none of us want it to take longer."

The chamber said the rebuild was "in its infancy", with 10,000 homes destroyed and awaiting replacement.

Work had begun on just 700 of another 25,000 houses with more than $100,000 worth of damage, and CBD infrastructure repairs were only 20 per cent completed.

ManpowerGroup New Zealand manager Matt Love-Smith said the rebuild had taken longer to kick off than anyone had expected.

"But now that it is imminent many people don't realise the magnitude of the task ahead and the labour force needed to execute it."

He said construction work had absorbed most available labour.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment forecasts predict 23,900 additional construction workers will be needed at the peak of the Christchurch rebuild, and carpenter and joiner numbers would need to almost treble to keep up with rebuild progress.

Brownlee wondered where the hard evidence was for the concern about the labour shortage. Some business surveys suggested that it was much less of a concern than it was 12 months ago and some suggested there might be an oversupply of workers, he said.

More people had been trained and upskilled in the earthquake's aftermath than could ever be imagined, Brownlee said. The Government had put an extra $43 million into the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to train young people.

Love-Smith said many firms already faced shortages and the problem would get worse. He said ManpowerGroup's most recent survey of employer clients showed a third of Christchurch employers expected to increase staffing levels over the coming months.

"There is very little capacity in the market to address more work, yet we predict the construction boom won't peak for another 18 months," he said.

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Townsend said the accommodation shortage was preventing much-needed workers moving into the city. "It's up to all of us - individual companies, organisations like ours, and local and central government - to do whatever we can to attract labour into the city."

Labour Earthquake Commission spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the Government had failed to prepare for the inevitable lack of labour. "We knew three years ago there was going to be a shortage of workers."

Cosgrove said the rebuild was a "lost opportunity" for the Government to fund trades training for young people in the region. "If we'd started training these young people three years ago we could have had 30,000 more trained workers in the workforce today."

Statistics NZ figures show unemployment in Canterbury was 4.2 per cent in September. Male unemployment was at 3.8 per cent, which is considered full employment.

- The Press

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