17 Nov 2014

Australia disputes NZ job fair pitch

8:23 am on 17 November 2014

A Western Australian business leader is questioning the figures being used in a New Zealand Government recruitment drive to attract workers to this side of the Tasman Sea.

300714. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Steven Joyce  during a press conference regarding Novopay next steps.

Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce says it is time for workers "donated" to Australia to come back. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Perth will play host this weekend to the first of four job fairs, which will try to lure people to New Zealand to work in engineering, trades and construction, IT, healthcare and hospitality.

Big-name firms and local authorities taking part include Opus, Naylor Love, Jim the Builder, Fulton Hogan, Downer, Beca and the Auckland Council and Christchurch City Council.

The fairs, announced by the Government in October, are being put on by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which includes Immigration New Zealand - the second will be in Sydney the weekend after Perth, and Melbourne and Brisbane will host events early next year.

More on the jobs fair

The Government believes the economy could be constrained if companies cannot grow because they are unable to fill key vacancies.

Steven Joyce, who is the Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, said New Zealand had "donated" a lot of workers to Australia over 20 years and it was now time to get people back.

"Now times are probably a bit better over here, certainly employment is stronger, the economy is operating stronger," he said.

"We think it is an opportunity to say to a whole lot of expat Kiwis maybe it is time to consider returning to do some work in this country, but also Australians."

Organisers are hoping to fill 2000 positions from the Perth event alone.

Mr Joyce said the fairs were triggered partly by responses from New Zealand businesses.

"What we are seeing is some signs collected in quarterly surveys of business opinion that it is getting tighter and we have also been hearing from particularly ICT employers, but also the construction industry.

"In ICT's case they are quite desperate for more people because their companies are growing quickly."

John Comrie, the managing director and founder of the technology recruitment firm Potentia, agreed information technology positions were in urgent need of being filled.

"The sector has really been facing a shortage, really, since the global financial crisis concluded, which for this part of the market was in 2010.

"So we have seen a bit of a structural shift and ongoing shortage since that time - and the need and the acuteness has only increased since then.

"Given the nature of the profession, there are only really two feeders that we have, and that is graduates and immigrants. Between 2006 and 2010, there was actually a 45 percent drop in the number of university graduates that left with a tertiary degree in the technology sector."

Mr Comrie said this figure has grown about 11 percent since the drop but filling the vacant positions with the right people was a systemic challenge.

Figures criticised

Western Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Deidre Willmott

CCIWA CEO Deidre Willmott Photo: AMEC

Fair organisers are using local unemployment figures in their bid to attract Australian workers and say 75,000 resource-related jobs are expected to go in Western Australia in the next two years.

Deidre Willmott, the chief executive of the state's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents more than 9000 businesses, is disputing this.

"I think the New Zealand Government will find that the situation in Western Australia is perhaps not quite as soft as they might be hoping in terms of talking about the significant downturn in the mining industry.

"What we have seen in Western Australia is massive investment in the construction of new mining projects - as those construction projects come to an end we are moving to increase production across our mining industry."

Ms Willmott said the figures appeared to be hyping up how bad the state's economy really was/

"I guess that 75,000 figure was surprising, and the negative messages around the Western Australian economy were surprising and I think overstated."

She said while businesses in Australia admire the New Zealand Government's agenda for business growth, it was disappointing to see such messages put out.

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