Construction sector trying to fight labour shortages as unemployment rate dips

The construction sector is trying to fight chronic labour shortages as Aotearoa’s unemployment rate dropped to four per cent.

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The plummeting rate reveals a tight labour market. Source: 1 NEWS

Maporika Tahapeehi is among 12 students taking part in an intensive six-week infrastructure skills course fast-

tracking people into the construction industry.

“I was unemployed for a year and got an email from my case manager and it was about this six-week course,” she said.

“I said, 'I'll take the course and see if I like it'. It's amazing - it's not just a course.”

Her fellow infrastructure student Nico Mackay said the first day of the course involved reversing trailers, which he had never done before.

“Was real happy doing that - even small things that you can apply not just here, but in your day-to-day life as well,” he said.

“If you get offered to do a six-week course that offers as many things as this does, certainly take it.”

The pilot course is just one of the ways the sector is trying to combat labour shortages.

“It's going well so far, so that's very positive and we'll be looking at once the pilot is over, looking at how we can roll this out and really upscale it so we can get a lot more people coming into the industry,” the Civil Contractors Association’s Peter Silcock said.

New Zealand’s unemployment rate peaked at 5.3 per cent following the lockdown, but has since fallen sharply as the economy rebounded. The unemployment rate now sits at four per cent, back to pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, average hourly rates have risen four per cent in the past year to hit nearly $35 an hour. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said there is still a "10 per cent underutilisation rate”.

“We've still got more people on benefits than before Covid and there is still work to be done to help train New Zealanders to get the skills matches that we need.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of workers at Northland's Marsden Point Refinery are concerned about their jobs.

A proposal could see Marsden Point cut its directly employed staff down from 300 to just 60 - or around 80 per cent of the workforce - in the next 20 months if shareholders vote this week to close the country’s only oil refinery.

“It's devastating for me and for everyone else at the refinery. Everyone hoped they'd get some support from the Government in keeping this facility open,” Marsden Point process technician Greg Ventnor said.

A meeting was held today between workers and the union about a redundancy package.

“It's going to be catastrophic. Sure, a lot of these workers, being skilled workers, might be able to find higher-paid jobs overseas, which they may then go off to, but that's a huge disruption to their lifestyles,” First Union’s Jared Abbott said.

Ventnor said while he thinks he will struggle to find work, he’s far more concerned about others.

Source: 1 NEWS

“This refinery pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the Northland businesses. There are a huge amount of contractors - probably 1000 contractors - affected by this closure,” he said.