Situations vacant as skilled staff shun Marlborough

Last updated 17:18 17/08/2017

Marlburians give their take on why people should consider moving to the region for work.

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Marlborough is the heart of New Zealand's wine industry, home to the famous Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Simcox Construction general manager Antony Clark says this is the tightest labour market he has seen in Marlborough.
Come and see the dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds.
Soaking up the sun at Whites Bay. Marlborough is often the sunniest place in New Zealand.
Marlborough Principals Association president Tania Pringle says it has never been harder to lure teachers to the region.

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Marlborough basks in sunshine, has a booming economy and compared with the rest of the country houses are fairly cheap - so why aren't people moving here?

The region has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 3.7 per cent, so businesses are increasingly looking further afield to snap up talent.

But despite the lifestyle on offer, many sectors including construction, healthcare, education and the wine industry are struggling to fill their quota of skilled workers.

A recruitment consultant says about 70 per cent of her listings are filled by candidates from outside Marlborough, but overall the numbers applying are down.

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The struggle for teachers

Marlborough Principals' Association president Tania Pringle said in her 11 years as principal of Seddon School it was the hardest it had ever been to find staff.

"There are lower numbers of people applying for positions in all schools - and for relieving and part-time staff it's extremely hard to source people," she said.

"It puts a lot of stress on existing staff, the leadership and management especially, to find people - and it's not fair on the children who miss out."

Pringle said schools in Auckland were struggling to attract staff because of house prices, but in Marlborough the issue was a perceived lack of activities for young people.

"But we have probably one of the best climates in New Zealand, there's the Marlborough Sounds, and if you're into the outdoors we have so many things to offer as a region."

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Unlike Auckland there was little or no traffic problems, the cost of living was cheaper, and for those looking for a house Marlborough was still a bargain, she said.

Where are the tradies?

But finding someone to build a house was becoming more and more difficult, with the construction industry reporting extensive delays because of a surge in activity.

An Infometrics report released earlier this year found another 500 construction workers would be needed in Marlborough over the next two years to keep up with demand.

Simcox Construction general manager Antony Clark said construction activity in the region was the highest he had ever seen it.

The civil construction company, which had a workforce of about 80 staff, was advertising for another six staff to stay on top of demand.

Clark said it was the tightest labour market he had seen, and the volume of work meant he had to advise clients with large projects they would not be delivered until next year.

"You've still got that two-fold effect with workers being drawn down to do earthquake repairs with NCTIR on the Kaikoura rebuild," he said.

"So that's taken resources from Marlborough, then you've got the local market which is very buoyant at the moment - it's bubbling along."

Clark said he would happily take on qualified workers straight away, but a lack of available staff in the region meant the company increasingly had to look outside Marlborough.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said the council helped organise a meeting two weeks ago between the Ministry of Social Development and several large construction companies.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of staffing, and see if there were jobs available for Work and Income clients, he said.

Wineries crying out

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens, who came to the region from Auckland nine years ago, said the wine industry was also facing a skills shortage.

A New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report showed the wine industry employed 2350 people in Marlborough, with another 2500 jobs supporting the industry.

However, companies were still struggling to find skilled machinery operators and applicants to fill desk jobs in the sales, marketing and financial side of their businesses.

"We play in the global environment, so we need the best of the best - we're trying to get the best people to come and live here," Pickens said.

"And there really are opportunities for people right through the wine economy in Marlborough, so we're putting the call out - we want people here."

The wine industry was one of the biggest job creators in the region, which had the highest predicted employment growth rate in the country over the next three years.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment's Short-term Employment Forecast 2017-20 report found employment in Marlborough would grow by 3.5 per cent, creating 3600 jobs.

Health worries

Finding enough doctors had long been an issue in Marlborough, one that reflected a national problem of more GPs reaching retirement age.

Last month, it was reported the Picton Medical Centre, the only practice in the town, had spent nine months trying to replace two GPs.

Renwick Medical Centre GP Buzz Burrell said the fact GPs were retiring faster than young doctors were being trained meant the sector was on the threshold of a crisis.

While his practice was fully staffed, Burrell said finding administrative staff, registered nurses and other doctors was almost impossible, a problem not confined to Marlborough.

A Nelson Marlborough District Health Board spokeswoman said there were 23 vacancies in Marlborough, and that all DHBs shared the challenge of recruiting staff.

"It can be more challenging to fill specialist healthcare roles. In January our new specialist vascular surgeon started with us after at least one year of recruitment activity," she said.

Paper problems

Journalists, too, were in short supply. 

Fairfax Marlborough regional editor Nicola Coburn said she had been advertising a reporting position since early May with no success. 

"Usually when you advertise a position you'd get a healthy number of applications, generally from graduates of journalism schools, but we've had a very, very low number apply and have been unable - so far - to find a suitable candidate," she said.

"It's the first time we've been in this position and it's something that really worries me. I do wonder, do people just not want to move to the regions anymore?"

Because reporters applying for jobs in Marlborough tended to be graduates, Coburn speculated some were perhaps being put off by a lack of nightlife and social activities in Blenheim.

However, like representatives from other sectors she said the lifestyle in the region was fantastic - traffic issues were next to non-existent, and the cost of living was far less than in the cities.

"I think we need to find the right format to attract people and push their buttons so they realise living in the regions doesn't disadvantage you in any way, in fact it gives you, arguably, a better quality of life."

Coburn had approached the heads of journalism schools in Wellington and Christchurch in a bid to attract graduates, but the response had been muted.

"There are quite a few journalism jobs open around the country, which may be having an impact, but in terms of pay rates and working conditions, what we offer is on par with the bigger metropolitan newsrooms. 

"It's frustrating because we all know what a great place Marlborough is to live - we just need to convince others of that."

Who's advertising for jobs?

Seek NZ general manager Janet Faulding said the latest data from the job-seeking website showed the three biggest advertisers this year were the manufacturing, transport and logistics, healthcare and medical, and trades and services sectors.

"These industries have remained the top advertisers across Marlborough year-on-year since 2013, and follow the national trend," she said.

The average advertised salary for Marlborough was $63,586, compared to the national average of $75,790, for the year to June, ​Faulding said. 

- The Marlborough Express


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