While industry bosses from sectors like horticulture, IT, construction and forestry call for border exemptions to bring workers into the country to fill short-term skills shortages, the Government is hitting back with its "Kiwi first" approach to filling the roles.
The Minister for the Covid-19 response, Chris Hipkins, said some industry bosses “want to bring in migrant labour … because they are cheaper, they work for longer hours and they do work New Zealanders aren’t willing to do”.
“The reality is we want to see people who are doing that work paid appropriately so that those jobs are attractive to New Zealanders,” he said.
The hospitality industry is struggling to fill roles. It’s seeing a big shortage of chefs, managers and front of house staff.
Julie White, CEO of Hospitality New Zealand, acknowledged a frequent criticism that hospitality jobs were often low-paid, and people had to work in tough conditions.
“We need to do some work around that, positioning hospitality as a really successful and exciting career,” she said.
But Chris Dickinson, general manager at Hotel Grand Windsor, said it was difficult to bring inexperienced people into the industry.
“There are a lot of people that have become unemployed,” he said.
“But we aren't able to bring them into our industry because the equivalent would be today you're a bank teller and tomorrow you're a bank manager."
A national skills plan is one suggestion being touted as a way to build a pipeline of local talent.
Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said it was about identifying the skills the country needed, then making a plan to train people in those areas over the next few decades.
“There’s a huge pool of people out there looking for work, and there’s quite a lot of employers out there looking for workers. It’s just that we haven’t got that overlap right.”
With his Education Minister hat on, Hipkins said the Government was working on long-term plans.
“We're making vocational courses in areas where there are shortages fees free to encourage people into those areas,” he said.
White said those courses would need to be designed “by industry for industry” to make a real impact.