Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Rebuild fills skills gap after quake

Workers will be attracted by the career prospects and salaries offered in the city. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Workers will be attracted by the career prospects and salaries offered in the city. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Earthquake-damaged Christchurch is in need of 20,000 to 30,000 more workers.

"There is going to be bucket loads of work here in the next five to 10 years," said Simon Worthington, of the newly formed Canterbury Employment and Skills Board (CESB).

Many potential employees are seeing it as the opportunity of a lifetime to be involved in reconstruction, boost their salaries and further their careers.

Some of the predictions that were made about employment in Christchurch haven't come true. Worthington, who is the Canterbury Development Corporation's workforce-strategy manager, says unemployment has risen by about 1000 people - not 20,000 as some foretold. Even so, filling the skills gap will involve more than just recruiting people, says Manpower's New Zealand general manager, Michelle Visser. There will need to be money invested in up-skilling and retraining existingstaff.

It will also require a different approach to recruitment. Visser says that while living in Christchurch might not appeal to families as it might have in the past, younger or single people can be attracted by the outdoor lifestyle the city has to offer.

The challenge is also bringing in candidates. Since the February quake, professional-services company Beca has seen Christchurch staff numbers swell from 180 to about 230.

"For the right people it's not a hard sell," says Craig Price, Beca's regional manager for the South Island. "There is a challenge to respond to see the city back up on its feet."

Price says about one-third of the increased Christchurch workforce are permanent relocations, one-third are contract workers and the rest are people who commute for the job. Many of those who have "manned up" the Christchurch operation come from the company's other New Zealand and Australian operations.

Beca has ensured there is a "clear and consistent" relocation package for existing staff and potential employees, which "helps people make a decision".

Recruiters are casting their nets widely to fill engineering gaps as well as those in related fields such as high-end finance.

Jason Walker, managing director of recruiter Hays, said his company received 750 applications from the UK and Ireland for about 20 vacancies at one client's Christchurch operation.

Some candidates will be considering the salary benefits of moving to Christchurch, says Kelly Services marketing manager Victoria Robertson. "It is a candidate's market."

However, organisations need to be careful to send the right messages about salary - Beca is looking to ensure that existing staff feel there is pay parity between them and new staff.

Price expects that some work will also be able to be done remotely, meaning staff in other locations can be involved in the rebuild: "Remote resource doesn't put extra stress on the infrastructure of the business and the city through an influx of people."

Poaching of staff is inevitable as some employees will see the opportunity to improve their prospects, conditions or salary by moving companies.

Robertson says that Christchurch businesses in general have looked after their staff well during challenging times. In doing so they have increased staff loyalty.

- Herald on Sunday

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