Fewer tradesmen may be needed for city's rebuild - leaders

The Canterbury rebuild may not require quite as many extra tradesmen as first thought.

The initial estimate of nearly 24,000 extra construction workers is likely to be revised down by several thousand as a result of a longer and smaller reconstruction phase, some Christchurch business leaders believe.

The cost of the rebuild has been estimated at somewhere between $20 billion and $30b with the Government and city leaders acknowledging that much of the labour for that will need to be drawn from outside Christchurch.

They say one of the biggest problems will be how to accommodate thousands of workers coming into the city even if the figure is revised down.

In November last year a report, released by the Canterbury Employment and Skills Board, estimated up to 23,900 extra people would be needed in the trades, including carpenters, joiners, painters, plus labourers and concrete and plastering workers.

On top of that 12,000 back- up workers such as lawyers and accountants would be needed.

But now those numbers are likely to reduce, with the construction figure possibly falling below 20,000 into the "high teens" says Canterbury Development Corporation workforce strategy manager Simon Worthington, who is also working as an adviser to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and the skills board.

The fact that commercial and residential rebuild owners were cashing up and and might not rebuild would be a factor.

Also, uncertainty around the green-blue and white zones was lengthening the process, he said.

"I think we're probably going to see a slightly longer rebuild phase . . . some of the damage we thought was going to be [repaired] has been settled and the [owners have taken] cash settlements, so that reduces the need for labour over the period . . . My sense is we're probably not going to be seeing as much building activity as we were expecting."

The lack of accommodation for workers moving into the city was also an issue.

Worthington said he was due yesterday to meet rebuild organisations including Fletcher EQR, MWH Mainzeal and Hawkins Construction, "to get their most up-to-date scheduling", in order to build a picture that would revise the 23,900 figure.

Tradestaff managing director Kevin Eder said he would not be surprised if the figure was revised down, having had a gut feeling the figure was too high.

Eder said when the 15,000-20,000 extra workers were required many might need to be sourced from areas such as Eastern Europe and SouthEast Asia. He felt the rebuild would not really kick into gear until midway or later in 2013.

A lot of companies would be "hanging on for that rebuild".

"What of course will happen is it will ramp up in a hurry, and then everyone will be short of workers."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said after recent discussions, including with Fletcher, he still felt between 20,000-30,000 extra construction workers would be required in the city.

The Press