Letters from the Southern Man
Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people.
Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.
But not without a little help from around 36,000 additional workers and possibly Bob the Builder.
The Southern Man takes a break this week, enjoying some R&R in Malaysia, leaving this week’s commentary to me (Paul Janssen).
Barrack stole the slogan from Bob and I feel comfortable stealing it from Barrack, however it remains to be seen if the powers that be, tasked with rebuilding Christchurch will be shouting it from newly built roof tops.
The Canterbury Employment and Skills Board (CESB) announced in late 2011, that around 36,000 additional workers would be required to fuel the rebuild of the quake struck city. To give that number some context, the challenge at hand is to repair over 100,000 quake damaged homes, rebuild over 10,000 homes from the ground up and continue with a 15 year commercial rebuild project to bring ‘back to life’ the downtown commercial area.
Current estimates put the total amount of financial investment into the rebuild at around $20 billion dollars, with this figure growing every day.
It’s always difficult to predict these numbers, but even more recent reports which have outlined emerging labour force shortages have consistently suggested around 35,000 plus new employees are needed over the life of the rebuild. Of course as the size and scope of the project unfolds this number continues to change. No matter which way you look at it, the task is a mammoth one.
Although the rebuild project has really only just started and in fact there isn’t an awful lot of rebuilding going on but rather continued work on assessing damage, the economic effects of this potential employment behemoth are already being felt. Just six months in and average wages for the Canterbury region have increased by 3.6% with local firms increasing salaries in an effort to attract skilled staff to the region. With small civil projects (under $2.5million) being the first to gain approval, the local employment market is already suffering a skills shortage. This in turn leads to any company involved in the rebuild project to try and attract staff from other parts of New Zealand or indeed offshore. With Canterbury recently eclipsing Auckland for employment growth, it’s no wonder that approximately 50% of employers were struggling to fill vacancies in the latter parts of 2011.
And whilst people directly involved in the construction effort (Engineers, Electricians, Plumbers, and Builders etc) are in very high demand, there has also been a ‘seismic’ increase in the number of vacancies of other occupations, such as IT, Telecommunications, Accounting and Finance. This stands to reason as many big employers who are active in the rebuild establish satellite offices, needing their own remote infrastructure and support staff.
Having recently visited Christchurch to meet with some of these employers, the evidence of skill shortages is pretty much everywhere. What should have been a 15 minute drive from the airport to the city fringe was a 50 minute drive through roadside construction detours and convoys of earth moving equipment. Oddly enough the city still looks very much intact (I was glued to the window on the plane as we landed) and people continue to go to work (if it’s still there), school and carry on with their normal routines, but as you get closer to the CBD, the evidence of the rebuild becomes more obvious.
People are also incredibly upbeat, considering what they have gone through, and the city has a certain ‘determined’ feel about it. Every person I spoke to during my two day visit seemed incredibly positive about what was going on around them, although there was definitely a sense of two ‘camps; those that were still there and, as we say in NZ, ‘mucking in’ and those that had relocated (one guy called them national traitors).
But with 36,000 staff needed to complete this potentially 10-15 year project and skill shortages emerging so early in the piece what does this all mean?
Well from where we sit, it’s pretty simple. Much of the labour force required over the life of the rebuild is going to have to come from newly trained staff or more logically from migrants. Companies bidding on projects in Christchurch often don’t have time to train new employees (although the Government has committed significant funds to this option) so they are inevitably forced to rely on overseas candidates to fill the gaps.
One of the big issues is that many of these employers don’t actually know how to find staff overseas. Even if they do, there is still the immigration process to deal with which, to be honest, could do with its own damage assessment.
Shortly after the earthquakes happened, we realised that there would be a massive spike in demand for anyone with Engineering, Construction or Trade skills and we regularly encourage our clients to consider Christchurch as an option for employment. Despite the obvious reservations about moving to a city levelled by an earthquake (or several of them) many of our existing clients have indeed relocated there, found work quickly and have settled in very well. They continue to do so today.
This then led to an even bigger idea (we have many of them around here) and that was to create a system to bridge the gap between New Zealand employers looking for skills and migrants who have them. And so a few weeks ago, IMMagine New Zealand launched a new service called iPlacements (www.iplacements.co.nz).
Targeted directly at employers looking to source and relocate skilled staff, iPlacements is recruitment ‘flipped on its head’. The goal is to give employers a means to find candidates overseas who they may not be able to find locally, using IMMagine New Zealand’s resources and track record with the immigration process to successfully bring them to New Zealand.
If ever there was a time and a place for a system that connected ‘would be migrants’ with New Zealand employers, Christchurch is it, but in reality the benefits of iPlacements covers the entire country. After all, as the labour force heads south for the rebuild, shortages will appear (and continue) in the north.
36,000 people is roughly the same population as Gisborne in the North Island, which means that we need a town load of people to complete this task. With our own population growth statistics leaving little to be desired, the continual movement of people to Australia, and an historical lack of skilled, trained trades people, a significant portion of the rebuild population will be ‘new New Zealander’s’.
So from our perspective at least, when the question is raised “Can you rebuild Christchurch” I know I will be chanting (without the star spangled banner or the yellow safety helmet) – “Yes We Can!”
Until next week – Paul Janssen
When the iplacements website be up and running?
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Hi would like to help rebuild Christchurch, where and how can I apply to be able to help...
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