Hawke's Bay businesses struggle to attract staff

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A shortage of key skills is stunting growth in Hawke's Bay, with companies struggling to attract key staff.

More than 5000 people are unemployed in Hawke's Bay but job listings rose in the past month.

Latest Department of Labour (DoL) figures show overall job vacancies continue to rebound nationwide. The number of advertised jobs jumped 2.6 per cent in August, following a slight rise in July. Demand for skilled jobs rose 4.9 per cent.

Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Murray Douglas said the region had a serious skills shortage in key areas.

"These are high-end trades - what I call skill trades: industrial electricians, senior welders, aluminium welders - precision engineering areas," he said.

Hawke's Bay commodity-type businesses were suffering as a result, he said. Australia's commodity boom had lured skilled workers with higher wages.

"They are the trade skills that we need, and also to run the process lines here to keep the wineries going and all the equipment that sits in packing houses that are quite critical for New Zealand's national economy."

Hastings-based engineering company LHT Design is struggling to attract structural and electrical engineers, says director Alan Thompson.

"If we could get more, we could do more - that's what limits our growth," he said. "The structural guys are really busy throughout the whole country with all this earthquake awareness - people getting their building to be assessed and strengthened - there is a huge amount of work for them. With electrical engineers it is not such a shortage but it is just very hard to attract a good engineer."

Competing with Australia's mining industry was a problem.

"Last year, we had a guy who was very interested and who appealed to us. He was Australian-based but we couldn't even get his salary to halfway of what he could get over there. His wife was from Napier and she was very keen but they just couldn't justify it.

"One of the factors that helps us attract people from overseas is the wives. We have two staff with wives from around here. That seems to be the attraction - they want to come home."

He said recruiting from overseas was a "significant risk".

"You bring them all the way out here but it is not until you have met someone that you really know what you are dealing with. It's also a risk for them, to pull out all their roots and come out to the other side of the world - they are not quite sure what they've come to."

The Jobs Online report released this week by DoL measures changes in job vacancies advertised on the two main internet job boards - SEEK and Trade Me Jobs.

DoL research manager Vasantha Krishnan said August had been relatively positive.

"If you look over the year, we've continued to see what's been a slow, steady recovery. We've continued to see strong demand for skilled labour in Canterbury, mainly in construction and engineering, although we've also seen some demand in hospitality and tourism."

Ms Krishnan said the biggest growth areas in the past month were construction and engineering jobs (8.1 per cent), and information technology (7.4 per cent). Demand for education and training staff also surged. Hospitality and tourism recorded the biggest fall. The report showed 'skilled' and 'all' vacancy listings had jumped nearly 8 per cent in the past year.

Wellington enjoyed the greatest jump in advertised jobs in August but was surpassed by Christchurch year-on-year thanks to the earthquake rebuild.

SEEK New Zealand general manager Janet Faulding said 16,000 jobs were currently listed on the website.

"This points to better opportunities across the board for Kiwis on the job hunt. For those considering changing jobs, now is a good time to poke your head up and see what is around."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment forecasts employment to grow by 39,600 jobs in the 12 months to March next year and by 54,100 jobs by 2014.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway said although the amount of jobs listed had been rising over the past three years, so too had the unemployment rate.

"It may well be that employers are out there doing a lot of advertising, setting incredibly high standards ... but accepting very few people."

DSK Engineering design engineer John Keith said the lack of apprentices was a systemic problem. His Hastings firm's practice of having multiple apprentices was not the norm, he said.

"It costs a lot more to train an apprentice than it used to but it's an important investment in the future."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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