The multi-billion dollar construction sector, staffed by 241,000 people, needs an extra 57,600 people soon but is only getting around 13,000 annually, new research showed.

Geoff Speck, New Zealand director of global quantity surveyor Rider Levett Bucknall, said the sector was suffering from a critical skill and labour shortage.

Construction sector needs extra 57,600 people by 2026. Photo/Getty Images
Construction sector needs extra 57,600 people by 2026. Photo/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning announced far-reaching reform of vocational training, saying that would be a priority for the Government this year. In her major economic speech delivered today, she set out how the Government planned to build greater resilience in the economy in the face of global economic headwinds and she cited polytechs and training as a key focus.

But work released today by RLB Oceania research and development manager John Cross in Australia precisely identified the staffing issues dogging building in this country and showed just how dysfunctional the sector was with its rapidly ageing workforce and staffing deficiencies.

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"Based on industry reports and government publications, the construction industry is forecast to require 57,600 more skilled workers by 2026," Cross told the Herald.

"Presently the number of graduates from construction-related courses number between 12,000 and 13,000 per annum," Cross said.

He cited Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment data to show how residential and non-residential building activities in this country would support demand for 57,600 more skilled workers including technicians and tradespeople by 2026.

Within skilled occupational groups, demand would rise fastest for construction-related occupations like glaziers, plasters and tilers, electricians and engineering technicians, Cross said citing the MBIE work.

Not only are we short of people, but the construction sector's workforce is ageing rapidly, his work showed. The number of those aged 60-plus is rapidly increasing while the number of those aged 15-29 is declining as a portion of the whole, the research showed.

Cross also cited the Government's skills action plan and changes to the immigration skills shortage list, released in December.

That highlighted trades named as having potential deficiencies in the future construction labour force in New Zealand.

Plumbers - roofing and general - as well as roof tilers, metal fabricators, welders, fitter-welders, bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenter and joiners, floor finishers, glaziers, aircon and refrigeration mechanics, scaffolders, plasterers, drain layers, surveying technicians, engineers and many other career categories were named on that list.

Ardern said this country had been "too reliant on buying skills through immigration. Immigration is vital, but we need to get the balance right. I want us to focus on how we can be better at growing the skills our economy needs."

She cited the Government "bailout" of four polytechnics which had resulted in the Government being forced to spend $100m and said better planning in skills education was needed.

"Whenever I talk to business I hear a recurring theme around skills training and the gap between what business needs and what our training organisations provide. Businesses are facing a constant struggle finding the people with the right skills at the right time to do the jobs that need to be done," Ardern said today at a Business New Zealand breakfast.