Councils and the private sector in battle to hire staff as job market tightens

The ACC building in Hamilton being built by Tainui Group Holdings. Recruitment specialists said any technical jobs connected to construction are becoming difficult to fill.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
The ACC building in Hamilton being built by Tainui Group Holdings. Recruitment specialists said any technical jobs connected to construction are becoming difficult to fill.

A skills shortage and competition from the private sector is making life difficult for councils trying to recruit key staff from zookeepers to urban planners and building inspectors.

There were nearly 400 job vacancies listed on Seek for project engineers, for example, advertised by private commercial companies and councils to work in cities and rural towns.

Waipā District Council was among them, looking for a project engineer to help it manage more than $180 million worth of projects over the next three years.

The council forecast an extra 25,000 people moving into the district by 2050 and it needed more project engineers to help prepare for the growth.

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The Kotare Downs residential development in Cambridge. The Waipā District Council said it needs more project engineers to help it prepare for urban growth through to 2050.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
The Kotare Downs residential development in Cambridge. The Waipā District Council said it needs more project engineers to help it prepare for urban growth through to 2050.

Details released under the Official Information Act showed the Waipā council had to take on building compliance officers with lower experience and qualification levels because of a tight labour market.

Those employees needed technical qualifications which could take up to two years but HR manager Stephanie Shores said the council was committed to investing in their development.

Attractive pay packages in the private sector was another hurdle, luring staff away.

“But we don’t believe remuneration is the be-all. We offer good employment value proposition, such as life insurance and additional benefits for staff.

Recruitment firm Everest’s managing director Senga Allen said employers are offering competitive salary packages plus extra benefits to find and retain staff.
Lawrence Gullery/Stuff
Recruitment firm Everest’s managing director Senga Allen said employers are offering competitive salary packages plus extra benefits to find and retain staff.

“We like to think it’s about the whole package but we do keep an eye on remuneration levels and applied market movement this year.”

Waipā also needed more property advisers, senior strategic planners and senior water service engineers.

There were plenty of applicants, but not with the correct experience, while other jobs took multiple campaigns to find the right person.

The council employed 75 new staff during the 2020-21 financial year.

“A lot of those were internal appointments and we’ve had a focus on developing staff to the point they can be promoted to another role.”

Hamilton City Council said experienced zookeepers are hard to find along with urban planners and building inspectors.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
Hamilton City Council said experienced zookeepers are hard to find along with urban planners and building inspectors.

Hamilton City Council recruited 312 people during the last financial year. It used five recruitment agencies but it would not say how much it cost.

It said the closure of international borders reduced the talent pool and it had created an “increasingly challenging recruitment market” in New Zealand.

“One example is qualified zookeepers where suitably experienced candidates within New Zealand are limited and already hold employment at another zoo across the country.”

Qualified city or urban planners and building inspectors were also in demand by the city council.

“Again, this is in part due to the limited number of qualified and experienced candidates but also competition for roles in the private sector.”

Waikato Regional Council employed 81 people during 2020-21. It paid $92,150 to four recruitment agencies to find suitable jobseekers.

Waikato District Council recruited 70 people for the same period and had similar challenges with less experienced candidates applying for roles such as planners and project managers.

Night cleaners were also hard to find and existing staff had to share the load.

Recruitment firm Everest planned a webinar early in 2022 to help employers adapt to the shift in the recruitment market.

Managing director Senga Allen said there was “stiff competition” between the private and public sector for any jobs connected to the construction sector, such as architects, planners and surveyors.

“Jobseekers can choose which lane they want to be in, and it often comes down to what the salary was like.”

It now took about 8-12 weeks to recruit and employers needed to be more active and creative if they wanted to find the right people.

“Some are shifting towards a base salary plus incentives like a car, extra leave or even an offer of ownership in the business.”

Allen said people were not being trained fast enough by industries to meet demand.

“So a lot of businesses are offering training and development as part of their retention programme.”