The country's unemployment rate is the highest it has been since 1999, but some employers are struggling to find people willing to take on manual work.

Several employers desperately seeking reliable workers say it is as if people are unprepared for the workforce and don't want to prove themselves.

The unemployment rate for the March quarter was 6.7 per cent, the highest it has been since June 1999, and the youth rate for 15-19 year olds was 23.4 per cent.

Hayden Bootton, of HSB Builders in Northland, said finding unskilled workers was difficult, despite offering apprenticeships.


He was offering $16 an hour for temporary workers and the minimum wage for permanent work, pay rises every six months and the prospect of a full builder's wage of about $20 an hour at the end of training.

Bootton said young people were unprepared for the realities of the workforce.

His father, a farmer, offered labouring work but received no responses.

Northland's unemployment rate is almost 9 per cent, one of the country's highest.

Brenda, who does not want her surname used, said it was not only a Northland problem. Her Waikato business hires labourers. She said people had worked a couple of days before quitting, and others had walked out when faced with a drug test.

Aucklander Richard Green said he was looking for actors for a school tour by his company, Ugly Shakespeare. Twelve were offered auditions but three failed to turn up and Green had to terminate one contract.

"No one is willing to climb the ladder any more. People straight out of training expect the best straight off."

He offered wages based on experience, and food, accommodation and travel were paid for.


"I think work-ready training in institutions should be part of a graduation requirement."

Brenda said the $13.50 her business offered as a starting rate was not a lot but she had been burned too many times to offer higher wages. People could get a pay rise quickly but "have to prove themselves".

A representative of an Auckland labour hire firm, who did not want to be identified, said pay was part of the problem. "You'd be hard pressed to get people out of bed for $13.50."

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said the situation was likely to get worse. "Our recent survey showed 22 per cent of businesses in Auckland are having difficulty employing the right people with skills."

A spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the Government's youth guarantee scheme was trying to address the shortage.

Brenda said her home was mortgaged to cover her business and her company often had to wear financial penalties as a result of workers promising to work but failing to turn up, delaying projects.

"One guy hadn't brought his lunch. We told him we'd wait while he went to get it. Then he called to say he wouldn't be back because the job wasn't for him."

She had asked Work and Income why the department did not drug-test candidates. A department spokesman said if drug testing was required, applicants were asked whether that would be a problem. If it was, their application was not submitted.

Josh Parkes said part of the problem may be the way jobs were advertised. He started at Silver Fern Cleaning two weeks ago after director Simon Potter went to the media over his difficulty finding staff.

Parkes said Potter had been inundated with CVs from people applying for the $20-an-hour jobs.