Finding jobs paying more than $100,000 a year in Tauranga is a case of filling "dead man's boots", says one Bay employment expert.
The bleak projection was backed up by recruitment consultants who saw up to 130 suitably qualified applicants for each top-level vacancy. Many high-quality general managers have left Tauranga for Auckland and Australia over the last four years in search of work.
"It's a case of dead man's boots in Tauranga a lot of the time I'm afraid," said Phil Van Syp, managing director of 1st Call Recruitment.
"There is not a high turnover of these roles."
Mr Van Syp, whose company has branches in Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, said the Tauranga office had placed two management roles in the last month, but only four in total over the last year.
However, he said there was reason for optimism with more business confidence being shown.
"Over the last quarter, the unemployment rate has gone from 6.8 per cent down to 6.2 per cent, and the numbers employed rose by a percentage point as well. There is more confidence out there.
"We've just had our biggest month ever, by around 30 per cent. It's been manic. And I would say 70 per cent of that business was local," said Mr Van Syp, whose company has been operating for seven years.
He said a greater number of high-paying roles were on their way to the region.
"The area is growing extremely fast and the big companies and the big jobs will come," he said.
"We have so many plus points - the infrastructure, the port, the environment - here that it's inevitable. The port is an enormous factor and will generate thousands of jobs.
"Once companies start putting their head offices and manufacturing departments here, those higher-paying roles will follow. They are already starting."
A search of job website Seek showed there were 23 jobs in Tauranga paying at least $100,000 per year. Of those, nine were in engineering, four in construction and two in healthcare.
The top-paying job, with a listed salary, was for a manager in environmental/engineering, with a salary of $130,000 to $160,000, plus shares.
It was not surprising that engineering was the most heavily represented sector, said Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason. "The consulting and planning companies to the building and construction industries will continue to have a shortage of higher-end positions.
"Several of these provide services to the Christchurch rebuild and this will continue for the foreseeable future. Many other sectors with a technical and IT base will continue to have shortages," he said.
Mr Mason said senior professionals, such as lawyers, doctors and top-level management, would earn salaries in excess of $100,000.
"However, Tauranga has far fewer organisations with 100-plus employees than the national average, which means less senior managers, less career progression, and less of a corporate management culture."
Owners of medium-sized companies and dairy farmers could also earn more than $100,000 but would typically reinvest their salaries into their businesses.
Claudia Nelson, owner/operator of Tauranga-based recruitment agency The Right Staff, said the absence of top-paying roles forced people to look elsewhere.
"A lot of very good general managers have moved to Auckland or Australia in the last four years to find work," she said.
"You get some who will partially commute so they can keep their family residence in Tauranga. So they might work three days a week in Auckland and then two days from home. Others have simply left for Australia because there are no opportunities here."
Mrs Nelson said a recently filled national sales manager role had attracted 130 suitable applicants. She said her company also received a lot of spontaneous applications from management-level job-seekers. "For every 100 candidates, we have one role."
Simon Oldham, corporate and international business development manager at Tauranga-based online recruitment agency QJumpers, said the fiercely competitive market made it hard for returning residents.
"When a position does come up you get a lot of very high-calibre people applying from all over the country. It makes it very difficult for people coming back from overseas," he says.