30 Jul 2015

Building boom brings skills problem

2:03 pm on 30 July 2015

Builders are concerned about a shortage of skilled tradespeople ahead of a forecast unprecedented growth in construction over the next six years.

Part of a housing development in the Tamaki area in Auckland.

Part of a housing development in the Tamaki area in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

A new government report shows $200 billion worth of building projects are expected to begin between now and 2020, driven by Auckland housing activity.

The National Construction Pipeline Report predicts 80,000 new homes will be built in Auckland by 2020, compared with 30,000 over the past six years.

Next year alone a record $37 billion worth of construction is expected, with a greater focus on apartments and smaller, attached homes.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said it was a "golden era" for the building industry.

"The challenge for Government is to ensure we have the skills and capacity to meet the demands of this growth, and that the regulatory measures are in place so that quality is not compromised for quantity during this period of unprecedented growth," he said.

Registered Master Builders chief executive David Kelly said there was already a skill shortage in the industry and he's worried about how that demand will be filled.

"History tells us when we have a big jump in the amount of work that's going on, we get players coming into the market ... who don't have the skills," he said.

"New Zealand has an unfortunate history of going on lowest price, and we see it again and again in terms of problems down the track."

He said clients bore the responsibility to ensure they did not compromise on quality when it came to who they hired.

Certified Builders chief executive Grant Florence said the Government's Licensed Building Practitioner scheme, which was set up to approve builders, was inadequate and should be strengthened.

"There were some elements of the scheme that were indicated when it was first set up that really haven't been delivered on, such as skill-based consenting or recognising those that might have a higher level of skill that they may be able to do different and more complicated types of work than those who don't."

Mr Florence said there was a risk the skill gap will be filled with offshore workers who did not meet New Zealand standards.

But New Zealand Institute of Building acting chief executive Malcolm Fleming said the report was a sign of hope for those still planning a career in the industry.

"Our ups and downs have been so dramatic, that people have been going into university at a peak. By the time they've finished that three years or four years or five years, we're at somewhat of a trough," he said.

"So they come out at a downward spiral in our construction sector."

Mr Fleming says the report predicts the boost in construction would last longer than previously thought, which meant guaranteed work in 2019 and 2020.