Employers warn of a looming crisis if New Zealanders continue to turn their nose up at available work.

And those struggling to fill vacancies are calling on the Government to help.

Representatives from the trucking, kiwifruit and aged care industries each warn that a crisis is coming if nothing changes.

A 2017 Priority One survey of 335 Western Bay of Plenty businesses found 54 per cent said attracting and retaining staff was a barrier to growth. Forty per cent looked overseas to employ skilled migrants because they could not find staff in the domestic market.


TD Haulage brought in staff from Romania, South Africa, Britain and Serbia because they were unable to fill vacancies.

Dispatcher Morgan Dynes said the next generation of New Zealanders did not seem to want to work.

"We don't have truck drivers coming to the door knocking looking for work. We used to have about three a week. Now there's no one."

Dynes said driving was not rated as a specialised trade "like builders".

However, Dynes said truckies were the backbone of the country and "without trucks, New Zealand would stop".

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers' Incorporated this month warned of a critical labour shortage. This comes despite a growth in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, which allows migrants in for seasonal horticulture and viticulture work when there are not enough New Zealand workers. In 2007 the cap was set at 5000 places. In 2016 it was 10,500.

Chief executive Nikki Johnson said the industry employed Kiwis "as a first priority", but the low unemployment rate showed no sign of abating which was "concerning" as the sector grew.

New Zealanders make up 56 per cent of the kiwifruit orchard and packhouse workforce compared to 22 per cent of people on a working holiday visa.

Morgan Dynes, from TD Haulage, says the next generation does not seem to want to work in the industry any more. Photo / Andrew Warner
Morgan Dynes, from TD Haulage, says the next generation does not seem to want to work in the industry any more. Photo / Andrew Warner

The industry is now developing initiatives to build the profile and accessibility of the industry for local job-seekers and school-leavers, Johnson said.

The report said the industry was also working to up pay rates, offer more flexible and reliable work and extend seasonal work contracts.

Priority One's projects manager, Annie Hill, said industries like the kiwifruit sector were struggling, particularly with unattractive conditions such as long shifts, low pay and temporary work.

"But in other areas what we are seeing is probably a lack of people with the skills to do a job. The panel beaters, I know they are bringing people in from the Philippines to do the work."

Record low levels of unemployment were another factor, Hill said.

In Infometrics figures from March 2018, Tauranga recorded a national low of 4.4 per cent unemployment, compared to the national average of 4.6 per cent.

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said even after the industry got a pay rise in a historic settlement with the Government last year, Kiwis were still not taking up work, and the ability to hire migrants was "crucial".

"Even if eventually we see more Kiwis applying for roles, it will not address looming shortfalls due to our rapidly ageing population."

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Nikki Johnson. Photo / File
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Nikki Johnson. Photo / File

Forecasts indicate that between 12,000 and 20,000 extra residents will need aged residential care by 2026, requiring an extra 1000 caregivers each year.

Wallace wanted the Government to remove the three-year stand-down period for Essential Skills visa holders. Otherwise, there will be an exodus of affected migrant caregivers in 2020, "leaving a huge gap in the workforce".

The association, with district health boards, was lobbying the Government and Immigration NZ to return nursing aged care to the Long Term Skills Shortage List.

Minister of Employment Willie Jackson said some industries needed to think about why New Zealanders weren't applying.

"We need to move away from importing labour as the default setting and work together on a full comprehensive employment strategy. All options need to be on the table, and a forward-looking plan needs to be the outcome."

Jackson said the Government was working on initiatives due to be announced soon, in addition to programmes already in place in other parts of New Zealand.