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Christchurch industry calls for more skilled migration as labour shortages bite

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Christchurch industry, through economic development agency ChristchurchNZ and the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, are calling for the Government to increase skilled migration as the impacts of an extreme skilled labour shortage are putting the brakes on Canterbury’s economic growth.

The case for more skilled migration is made in a report that focuses on the most severely affected industry sectors, manufacturing and tech. These two sectors are strategically important due to their significant number of high-value jobs, export revenue, growth potential and contribution to regional prosperity.

After two years of relatively closed borders and an economy now growing at 4.9%, it is crunch time for industry. There is strong local and international demand for their products and services, but they are not able to produce what they did prior to the pandemic, let alone additional orders and growth.

Businesses are reporting impacts such as:

- A high-growth high-tech business is looking to open a second office offshore as it can’t fill senior roles needed to help grow the local team by 300 roles over the next three years.

- A large exporting high-tech manufacturing firm are short 20 staff in roles from project management, mechanical design, electrical design, controls and skilled tradespeople. They are about to turn down a $5 million order from Australia, as they are unable to fulfil it with their current workforce.

- Trans-Tasman businesses are reporting moving new hires and departments to Australia.

Boyd Warren, Christchurch General Manager of Innovation and Business Growth, said that local businesses understand that the long-term solution is to grow homemade talent for these high-skilled roles but that takes time.

"It takes five years to get a qualified person out of Ara to a point where they are a profitable employee," said John Vale, the chief executive of electrical component manufacturer Vynco.

"In the meantime, initiatives by industry and support agencies to grow skills and pathways for local workers are at or near capacity and the country’s unemployment was down to 3.2% in the December 2021 quarter, the lowest rate since 1986," said Warren. 

Ben Reed, managing director of HamiltonJet, said that 10% of his workforce was apprentices, and that was probably the limit beyond which manufacturing becomes unsafe and untenable. Business leaders also make the point that the skills shortage is not just about the health of their own companies.

"I’m genuinely concerned about this country’s competitiveness in the long run," said Reed. And Glenn Hansen, group financial controller of Vortex Engineering Group, added that without a functioning manufacturing sector, "infrastructure and dairy would grind to a halt."

That is why significant short-term migration is required, potentially on a regional basis, in order realise current and future economic opportunities. ChristchurchNZ and the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce have called on the Government, via relevant ministers, to approve an additional 1500 skilled migrant visas regionally for manufacturing over the next 12 months and 4000 national visas for tech over the next 12 months.

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