The tight New Zealand labour market threatens to undermine our post-pandemic economic recovery as skills shortages increase.
It is such a headache for CEOs that a considerable 71 cent of respondents to the Herald survey say sourcing and retaining skilled staff is one of the key issues keeping them awake at night.
Stats NZ data shows the unemployment rate fell from a recent peak of 5.3 per cent in the September 2020 quarter to 4 per cent in the June 2021 quarter.
The situation is exacerbated by the current Covid-related border restrictions.
Some 72 per cent of survey respondents say their business operations have been hindered by the inability to bring essential skilled executives, investors, or workers across the border.
A further 25 per cent have not been affected.
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says she sees pressure on skills in areas like cyber security, data automation and AI.
"We're committed to doing our part in training and investing in our employees in these areas, and in creating pathways for entry level talent and in some cases for internships," she says.
"But these are long and medium-term solutions, and we have some significant recruitment challenges in the immediate term."
MinterEllisonRuddWatts chair Sarah Sinclair, says "current preferred candidates for roles remain offshore."
Similar challenges were shared by others in the tech sector.
"Twenty per cent of open roles are currently unstaffed," says the CEO of a major IT firm.
But this issue isn't restricted to any particular sector.
Tim Myers, chief executive of farm machinery firm Norwood says there is a desperate shortage of skilled technicians and mechanics.
"One, there aren't enough, and two, they're being incentivised to move to Australia with more competitive wages and more affordable housing".
Federated Farmers CEO Terry Copeland shares a similar story.
"Many of our members are reliant on skilled migrant labour and seasonal workers on farms, vineyards, orchards and processing facilities," he says.
"Around 7000 full-time roles are currently vacant and not being filled by New Zealanders."
Almost all CEO respondents — a considerable 94 per cent — say New Zealand should be doing more in the short term to bring in skilled migrants to ensure firms can support economic growth.
An independent director says there is an immediate and very serious labour market shortage that will see New Zealand lose jobs overseas and its relevance as an employment option. "Developing our own skills needs to be done — but it will take time.
"The opportunity/threat is here right now.
"Companies will not wait for the government and many are now setting up hubs overseas so that they can continue to execute their strategy."
The CEO of an agribusiness firm says the widespread business impacts that the lack of workers is having on the industry requires urgent attention.
"If we are going to become less reliant on migrant workers, it will take time — years.
"Just pulling the pin as has been the case is poor judgement, commercially naïve and certainly not representing a just transition."
Employing more Kiwis is not the answer," underscores OfficeMax NZ managing director Kevin Obern.
"We have skilled people desperate to move here, there has never been a better time to access those skills."
Adds EMA's Brett O'Riley: "The current approach is inhumane, ignores wellbeing and wellness for those involves, and does not represent New Zealand's values of manaakitanga."
Food manufacturer: Anyone who suggests that the 4 per cent who are currently not employed are the solution to our staff shortages is out of touch. No clear immigration strategy, and MIQ bottlenecks, make it impossible to recruit staff offshore, and equally challenging to retain staff who have valid visas that are due to expire soon. Solution — a clear immigration policy that listens to the needs to business.
Tech boss: If we start seeing a net outflow of skilled people (e.g. teachers, nurses, builders) once the borders re-open, NZ needs to decide what kinds of people it wants to attract and how to get them. Business would probably happily go back to the days when the doors were open for low-wage, low-skill people (to continue to suppress wages) but in the long-term it's not a winning strategy. Somewhere between that and attracting the rich (who don't need to work and whose 'investments' are largely unproductive). Go back to the days when we targeted skills, helped them move to NZ and settle them anywhere but Auckland or Wellington.
Agribusiness boss: It is completely unacceptable for fruit to be rotting because there are insufficient workforce willing to pick, market gardeners selling out because they can no longer get crops picked. Restricting migrant workers won't drive redundant airline pilots into picking apples or asparagus — it will drive businesses broke. Farmers are short of workers = massive stress — not everyone in NZ is willing or well-suited to working on a farm — Filipinos are and they value working in NZ but they can't join us. Many of those who are here are leaving because they haven't seen their families for up to two years — they can't get back here once they leave. Immigration policy is a mess. There seems to be an assumption that if we only paid Kiwis more they would do work typically done by migrants in various industries including agriculture and horticulture. I'm not sure that is right, it doesn't suit everyone to up sticks and move to rural NZ or do the type of work required. We need to support these sectors to pick their fruit, work on their farms, etc. Without that support we won't have the taxes to support our communities with the public services we want."