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Victim of its own success: Timaru on a recruitment drive, amid 10-year low in unemployment

Unemployment has hit a 10-year low in Timaru with a new report from Infometrics finding just 2.3 per cent of people are out of work across the district.

That’s nearly half the New Zealand average of 4.3 per cent, and while it’s great news for employees, it’s causing problems for businesses looking to employ new staff.

Heartland Potato Chips is one of many food brands based in the city, and while they’re currently able to hire locally, general manager Charlotte Bowan admits if they want to grow they may have start looking for labour elsewhere.

The operation has 13 full time workers, taking potatoes from the family farm right through to the manufacturing process in a factory based in Washdyke.

“We would like to fill [future positions] with local people for a start but sometimes that's challenging for those skilled positions so we may need to invest and look further afield,” she says.

Larger workforces like Thompson Construction and Engineering are already feeling the impact and say finding certain kinds of skilled staff members can be “challenging”.

General manager Mark Baird says the company employs 105 people and has to work closely with schools, polytechnics and even the local rugby club to keep troops coming in.

“Guys to weld can be a challenge, hence why there's a lot of overseas, Filipinos and guys from the islands and other countries that come to New Zealand to look for work,” he says.

“We do work with other local builders as well. If they're a little bit light on work they'll come and approach us and see if they can work for us also, so last year we contracted a couple of different companies for six months.”

Local business development group Aoraki has been running a promotional campaign to try and convince employees to move to the district.

Chief Executive Nigel Davenport says there is several factors at play but says employees have a lot of industries to choose from.

“We're not a port town, we're not a food processing town, we're not a health town, we're not a primary sector town - we're all of those and then some,” he says.

“We've got a great diverse industry base, which is fantastic, but by the flipside of that basically is we need a wide range of skills and knowledge to deliver a variety of roles.”

Businesses have started collaborating to get through the pressure, he says, and employing each’s other’s staff in quiet periods and working together where they can.

Immigration is one possible solution as well as attracting prospective employees from big cities like Auckland and Christchurch.

Ms Bowan of Heartland Potato Chips says people won’t regret the move.

“Timaru's a great place, we're great people, we've got affordable housing, there's lots of great job opportunities here,” she said. 

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While It’s great for employees, businesses say it is causing big problems. Source: 1 NEWS