Wanted: More people with the right skills


International sportswear label Kooga shifted from Auckland to Hawke's Bay about seven years ago but like other corporate professionals is struggling to find the right staff to justify remaining in the region.

The company's New Zealand managing director Guy McPhail said whether or not Kooga was able to stay in Hawke's Bay was "an interesting question".

"It is a question which pops up on occasions and one we have to address. If we can't find the right calibre of people we may need to look at getting back to a main centre.

"We would be reluctant to do that and we love being here but it comes down to asking the commercial question on whether it's viable to stay in Hawke's Bay."

Kooga's office is based at the Whakatu industrial park. For it to grow the company has set up a new role for a senior garment technician which it began advertising for this week. Mr McPhail was hopeful of finding a suitable candidate from Hawke's Bay.

"It is quite a specialist role and that has been one of the biggest challenges since we moved down from Auckland, to find skilled commercial people in the Bay. They just don't seem to exist.

"We want someone locally but if we can't find the right person with that calibre of skills we need, we will have to look wider."

About 150 fulltime jobs were advertised in Hawke's Bay on the Seek website this week. There were also 17 part-time jobs, 29 contract/temporary jobs and four casual/vacation jobs. The most popular category was manufacturing, transport and logistics, (26 listings) where Kooga had advertised for a senior garment technician. Mr McPhail said the new role required a person who had experience working in factories in China, where most of the clothing manufacturing industry was based. "We need someone who understands the clothing industry, from cutting of patterns and construction of textiles, someone who understands how Chinese factories are operated.

"Normally these people are based in Auckland, can speak Cantonese and have lived in China or Hong Kong."

Hawke's Bay's traditional focus was on its role as a primary and horticulture producing region. There weren't many people to draw on for other industries such as marketing sportswear.

"There are people that want to come home from overseas and are willing to relocate to the Bay and so we are trying to attract those people."

There was support for the region's councils and chamber of commerce in terms of efforts to improve the job market and attracting people to Hawke's Bay.

"I think they just need to continue on that direction of attracting internationally qualified people to the region, people that want to move to the Bay for the lifestyle, as we did. That is the upside of luring people to Hawke's Bay, with its good schools, climate and bounty."

Red Consulting Group's Hawke's Bay managing director Rachel Cornwall agreed the region was dominated by the primary production industry. "Yet this region is an extremely attractive place for people to move to, live in and remain in and so we get quite a stretched group of employees wanting and needing work. There is a dominance of seasonal-based work so the numbers of people in the region unemployed (during the winter) is skewed compared to at the height of the horticultural harvest season.

"But the paradox is that we have to import labour from overseas, so who wants to work and who can work (during harvest) are questions relative to that space."

Ms Cornwall has been working in recruitment in Hawke's Bay for 10 years and said one of the other stumbling blocks to creating jobs was the lack of corporate businesses. "We have a population that reflects the fact there are no corporate buildings here, all of the talented people drawn to live here don't have a large corporate structure providing opportunities to find those high-paying jobs.

"So that's why people are finding it difficult to find work."

Employers were also becoming "very specific" in their recruitment requirements, determined to find the right person straight away rather than take a chance on someone who may be slightly "left" of field.

"We have a lot of people that need work but they don't have the specific skill set employers are looking for."

Jobs in demand now included chartered accountants, technical, civil and structural engineers through to mechanics.

"In particular diesel mechanics, you just can't find them. So these roles are very specific yet we have mums and dads needing work to pay to the bills and get their kids to school. We are short of that $40,000-to-$50,000 job market.

"For those people that come in to see us, the situation is very real, it's serious to them because there's a lot of the line. Here we have a situation where we have good people but not meeting the specific needs of our clients." People were staying longer in their jobs, looking for employment security and reluctant to leave for new opportunities because of the enduring economic recession.

"Normally we have a natural attrition in the job market but general managers and CEOs are staying longer than they would normally. They're being offered more money to stay for longer terms and people might argue that's not good for performance because there is no new blood coming in.

"Also it means there are no new opportunities for people to move anywhere. We might have 100 people applying for GM-level roles at the moment and just one person is able to get the job because the others didn't meet the specific needs of the employer."

Ms Cornwall said the skills of many tertiary-qualified people in the commercial and public sector with mid-level experience were under-utilised. They were forced to take jobs where they weren't able to reach their potential.

"You will see many of these good people hiding in other organisations. Now and again they will pop their heads up and start to find opportunities on their own."

Former Havelock North mayor Jeff Whittaker advertised for new staff to work at his pharmacy and Post Shop in the village but was stunned to learn out of the 10,000 unemployed people he read about in the recent Household Labour Force Survey, only about a dozen people sent in their CVs.

"We placed two ads in the job vacancy section of the newspaper for the post shop and we had seven applications for that. The next week we put in three ads for pharmacy assistants and we had six replies.

"In the past we would get about 50 or so applicants. It seems to me there are 10,000 people looking for jobs but we only got six and seven applications. They were all of high quality but the number who replied makes for a pretty miserable result."

Mr Whittaker said most of the applications were from people "in their senior years" but there was only one person under the age of 20. "We are told we have all of these school leavers looking for work but we haven't seen any of them."

Mr Whittaker questioned whether job seekers were bothering to check all situations-vacant listings. "You would think that with this many people looking for work, they would be looking into every possible avenue where jobs are advertised." Fewer Kiwis were taking up careers in the hospitality and food industries in Hawke's Bay. "So you have to ask, what sort of jobs are people looking for or prepared to do?"

Napier MP Chris Tremain said Hawke's Bay experienced significant fluctuations in unemployment numbers due to the seasonal nature of work available. In 2009 the unemployment figure was 11,100, which was 900 higher than the current figure, but quickly dropped back as seasonal jobs came on stream.

"Given that the New Zealand economy has grown at 2.6 per cent over the last year, better than the UK, the US and most of Europe, I am confident unemployment numbers will improve. The good news is that those on the unemployment benefit number 2690, some 7510 below the number reported as unemployed. The number of people on the unemployment benefit is 754 lower than the high in 2010 of 3444."

Mr Tremain said he expected to see fewer people out of work when figures for the current quarter were published. "We need industries in Hawke's Bay which help to reduce the seasonality of our workforce and which lift wages. Both the Ruataniwha Dam Project and oil and gas exploration provide opportunities to do just that."

A regional plan outlining how economic growth could be achieved across the region was also crucial and should be headed by Hawke's Bay's councils. "This plan needs to consider all industry opportunities from the primary sector right through to the value-added-service sector. We will struggle to achieve a province-wide plan until we have better alignment of our councils with one regional leader. In saying this it is great to see our individual councils collectively supporting two new job-rich initiatives being driven by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, the chamber of commerce and Business Hawke's Bay. Oil exploration and the Ruataniwha Dam project are huge opportunities for growth and jobs in Hawke's Bay.

"The Government is supportive of both projects and a significant funder of feasibility studies for both initiatives." It was important to understand the Household Labour Force Survey included all people above 15 years of age available for one or more hours of work and who had sought work over the last month. "The number is significantly higher than those registered on the unemployment benefit because it includes tertiary students and people looking for part-time work of more than one hour."

He said 2690 people were registered on the unemployment benefit, 7510 fewer than those registered as unemployed in the survey.

Ministry of Social Development East Coast regional commissioner Lindsay Scott said while the number of unemployed across Hawke's Bay was at a higher level "than we would like", the ministry remained optimistic the labour market was starting to rally. "And more job seekers are getting into work. One of the encouraging indicators is the reduction in the recorded number of people receiving the unemployment benefit."

At the end of October, the Hawke's Bay region (including Waipukurau and Wairoa) recorded 2501 people receiving the dole, a decrease from 2770 recorded for the corresponding period last year.

The ministry said the 2012/2013 pipfruit season had a good start with heavy flowering intensity, indicating this year's crop was shaping up to be a large one. "It is anticipated that this season's crop volume will be about 10 per cent to 20 per cent larger than 2011/2012," Ms Scott said.

The demand for seasonal work was targeted to reach about 7000 jobs in November and upwards of 11,000 jobs in February to April.

"Our staff will be maximising efforts to get as many of our job seekers into work as we possibly can. Seasonal jobs can often lead to permanent work and we work closely with the horticultural sector in particular to make this happen."

The ministry said Affco and Silver Fern Farms were also back in full swing. Good rainfall this week had alleviated fears of a drought that might have impacted on the length of the kill season. "We have a number of skills for industry programmes either under way or about to commence and these will provide further job opportunities from now and into the New Year. These opportunities will provide jobs in the horticulture, infrastructure, construction and healthcare sectors.

"Every job, even a part-time job, makes a difference and we'd encourage employers who might need an extra staff member over the coming months to contact us."


- Hawkes Bay Today

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