22 Aug 2016

Construction firms struggle to find workers

12:21 pm on 22 August 2016

Building industry leaders say there's an acute shortage in many trades which will get worse as the industry enters an unprecedented building boom led by Auckland.

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

A building boom is being predicted in Auckland but constuction businesses say they already struggling to recruit enough staff. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

However, the Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse said Auckland's construction sector has not asked measures to allow mroe workers to be brought in from overseas.

"The construction industry, at this stage, hasn't asked for certain occupations to be added to the skills list for Auckland.

"Now that doesn't mean a construction company can't recruit a tradesman or a labourer if they can demonstrate that there isn't a kiwi available to do the job.

"But we work employers extremely hard to make sure that that process is followed before they do get access to the international labour market," Mr Woodhouse said.

Leighs Construction has noticed the pressure on the labour market in Auckland getting more challenging by the week.

Managing director Anthony Leighs said it was uncharted territory for the industry.

"The pressure on the construction labour supply is as severe as I've certainly seen it in my career.

"And when you look at what's coming over the next couple of years there's no doubt that we're going to be needing to recruiting extra people from offshore to get through the workload."

Recent forecasts estimated the value of construction would rise to $37 billion next year - and stay at record levels for at least five years.

Construction in Auckland is set to reach record heights with the city projected to build more than 13,000 homes next year.

Mr Leighs said the industry was short on people to take up leadership roles, as well as tradespeople such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and concrete workers.

"We definitely see a need to recruit offshore to satisfy the demands of the coming couple of years ahead."

Forty percent of Leighs Construction's employees are already from offshore, and it is currently recruiting in the Philippines, Australia and Britain.

He said he was surprised the minister had not had anyone request occupations be added to the shortage list.

"The situation at the moment is that there is a shortage and that shortage is going to become more acute over the next 12 to 18 months."

The head of the Registered Master Builders Association, David Kelly, said the construction industry was not well coordinated in terms of identifying the skills gaps.

But, he said the first full sector forum being held next month may change that.

"I'm sure that this will be one of the main topics of conversation. What are those skills shortages, what are businesses doing about it at an individual level but what do we need to do as a whole sector to find the right people, to train them, to retain them and also in terms of getting on the skills list for immigration.

He said the larger construction companies had the capability to recruit overseas but there needed to be a more coordinated effort so small and medium sized firms could access overseas staff.

He said Immigration New Zealand had shown itself to be cooperative if the industry was clear about what it wanted and what the shortages were.

Recruitment firm Tradestaff general manager Janice McNab said it is already difficult to fill job openings which was creating delays, and people were left working longer hours to keep up.

"I find it really interesting, we have an unemployment rate that's just come in that's just above five percent and there are some there that will say you need to close the borders then and that you've got overseas people taking New Zealand jobs and so on.

"That's certainly is not our experience at all. We are constantly advertising for people from the very low skilled level right through to the trades qualified people and even to get a labourer or process worker is problematic in most places within New Zealand."

She said Tradestaff was forced to look overseas to fill positions, particularly focusing on bringing back expats with New Zealand industry knowledge.

"There has been talk, not with any resolution I'll be quick to add, in terms of whether there's a need to have [an] Auckland skills shortages list in the same manor that we have a Canterbury skills shortages list here and whether there's value in implementing something similar in Auckland

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