If the boom is to continue without a major increase in salaries, many of the forecasts rely on strong net migration. But whether industry can bank on this is up for debate, given the political climate.

The consensus view is that the pace of construction will ramp up. This has long been expected. But latest projections from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) suggest the peak will be even higher than previously thought.

In the National Construction Pipeline Report, released in July, MBIE predicted a 23 per cent increase in construction activity over the next four years. This will take the value of building and construction from $34 billion in 2016 to $43b in 2020.

"It is expected the level of building and construction activity in Auckland will remain at a high level for several years after the peak," said the report.


"Auckland's growth is expected to continue after it eases in other regions."

Growth is expected across all sub-sectors. Though the majority will come from residential building - forecast to peak at $25b in 2020 - increases in non-residential building and infrastructure construction are also predicted.

Those categories are expected to reach $9.6b in 2019 and $9.5b in 2022 respectively.

With such sizeable growth in the pipeline, industry, and Government, will be wary of whether commensurate growth can be sourced in the labour market.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent in the March 2017 quarter, down from 5.2 per cent the quarter before.

"We're starting to see construction employment build in regions other than Auckland and Canterbury," Statistics NZ labour market and household statistics senior manager Mark Gordon said when the statistics were released.

"Over the quarter, the Household Labour Force Survey showed a significant increase in employment in the Waikato region, which included 3600 more people working in construction."

MBIE's short-term employment forecast (projecting from 2017 to 2020) says construction and utility services will make the largest contribution to overall employment growth over the period - some 32,400 of 152,000 more people employed nationwide.

Employer intentions match these projections: 61 per cent of those in the construction sector report they expect to increase permanent staff numbers over the current year, according to the 2017 Hays Construction & NZIOB (New Zealand Institute of Building) Salary Guide.

More than 35 per cent of employers intend to increase contracting and temporary staff to support the growth in project workload.

"The results of this year's survey suggest that recruiting those with specialised skills remains a challenge," said NZIOB Chief Executive Malcolm Fleming in the report.

"And the sector's capacity to continually raise the income bar to attract talent is on the wane."

Though modest salary increases are expected, there is only so much that can be paid for a new house, a new building, or for an infrastructure project, Fleming warns.

While most employers expect to raise wages and salaries over the coming year, those raises appear modest at best.

Only 7 per cent of employers registered an intention not to increase salaries over the coming year - but just 15 per cent of employers expected to increase salaries by more than 5 per cent.

A further 22 per cent said they did not know. The bulk of respondents fell within the 0 to 5 per cent increase range.

The Labour Party campaigned on a platform of reducing net migration by between 20,000 and 30,000 people per annum - and 5000-8000 of that figure was to be made up from tightening of work visa requirements.

NZ First stood on a platform of limiting net migration to 10,000 per annum. (That would amount to a reduction of over 60,000 from the record net migration observed in the year to March 2017).

However, incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking on Three's The Nation last weekend said Labour's immigration policy "remains absolutely unchanged as a result of these negotiations".

The party also campaigned on plans to introduce a KiwiBuild Visa, under which residential construction firms could hire a skilled tradesperson on a three-year work visa without having to meet the Labour Market Test if they pay a living wage and take on an apprentice for each overseas worker they hire.

Building for scale

Beyond labour market challenges, the industry also faces issues relating to capacity and contracting.

In particular, industry leader Fletcher Building faced a tough year, with former CEO Mark Adamson resigning in July after a second earnings write down for the year. Industry analysts have pointed to the use of "novated contracts" - which have the result of capping the price received for a project - as the source of some of Fletcher's problems.

Taken together with cost blowouts, these contracts can become significant loss-makers that construction firms are legally tied to.

More broadly the question of capacity will be raised. As New Zealand steadily increases its housing and infrastructure spend, overseas firms may need to play a bigger role in order to deliver projects of true scale.

Ten of the country's infrastructure projects expected to commence in 2017 were valued at $100m or more. Despite being just 0.4 per cent of the 2400 known infrastructure projects for the year, these 10 projects accounted for 41 per cent of their total value.