Northland's employers are struggling to fill vacant positions as the number of job listings keeps increasing – especially in the trades and healthcare.
The continuous increase of job vacancies in Northland leaves some industries short of staff.
According to online employment marketplace Seek, Northland has seen a 10 per cent job ad growth from March to April this year – compared with only three per cent nationally – and a 41 per cent increase between April 2021 and April 2022.
Compared with pre-Covid times three years ago, Northland's job listings on Seek have increased by 97 per cent – significantly above the national average of 39 per cent.
Seek currently lists 589 jobs whereas Trade Me shows 753 job vacancies.
On both platforms, healthcare has the most listings. On Trade Me it makes up 20 per cent of the listings followed by trades and services; manufacturing, transport and logistics and retail.
Rob Clark, Seek NZ country manager, says New Zealand is "extremely stretched for workers".
"[T]he demand for workers is far greater than the supply of candidates."
Clark said the interest in opportunities is steady, however, but many were hesitant in taking a plunge.
"Our research […] showed that the primary hesitation for candidates in looking for a new role is the concern that there are not enough jobs available in their field.
"But jobs are booming, in all industries and in all regions, so if you have been putting off making a change there never has been a better time to take the leap."
Job growth in the regions was particularly noticeable in the past few months, with Northland's unemployment rate reaching a 10 -year low in March at 3.6 per cent, down from five per cent in March 2021.
At the same time, employment rates in the region have been growing steadily, with over 72,000 Northlanders in jobs in March, up 4.7 per cent to March 2021 – above the national average of 2.7 per cent.
Bruce Larsen, general manager at the Waipū sawmill Northpine, is permanently four to six people short, and with Omicron hitting the region in the past few months the mill is down up to 12 workers at times.
With a team of about 70, these shortages have a noticeable impact on the business.
Larsen had to scale down operations and extend working hours for his staff while the building sector is begging for more timber.
Some of his management staff who had gone off the tools have now re-joined workers in the yard.
"Our customers are screaming for products and we can't run at full capacity."
Northpine used to fill unskilled labour positions with immigrants because not all local Kiwis are willing to work long hours and do hard labour, Larsen explained.
"We have been looking hard at our wage rates, especially in the last 18 months, and we could afford to pay our staff more," Larsen said.
Next to wage incentives, Northpine has been advertising their job vacancies, registering with employment agencies and working with the Ministry of Social Development for jobseeker referrals – but pulling all these strings hasn't brought them anywhere.
Larsen hopes the re-opening of the borders will bring in more hands to help out in the yard.
He said Northpine has registered with Immigration NZ under its new Accredited Employer Work Visa, signalling its interest in labour from overseas. However, that process had some inherent issues.
"We're buying without seeing. There is no decent interview process."
Additionally, the Government dictates a median wage of at least $27.76 an hour to be paid to any immigrant worker, regardless of skill level.
The Accredited Employer Work Visa is part of a major immigration reform that will come into place in July and is meant to streamline application processes for businesses.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said New Zealand needs to move away from pre-pandemic trends that saw the country "overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers".
"Our plan is to grow skills at home," Faafoi said.
The minister admitted that the shift might be "challenging" for some sectors.
For Bream Bay Medical Centre the immigration reforms mean another layer of bureaucracy and more money out of the pocket.
The accreditation process costs $740 to get up to five employees in 12 months. If a business needs more than five immigrant workers, they pay $1220 for a year.
That is in addition to recruitment costs. Urban practices like Bream Bay don't get funding to pay for overseas recruitment.
Practice manager Kay Brittenden said the practice was already jumping many hoops to get accredited with the Ministry of Health.
"Why doesn't that also tick the immigration box?"
At Central Family Health Care, hiring staff has become "hideous".
"There are no healthcare workers out there," practice manager Ruth Redfern said.
Redfern has been advertising to hire nurses and reception staff for the past few months. She used to get 50-70 applications for a job vacancy.
"Now there is nothing."
One of her reception staff retired late last year, while another will go next month. Currently, Redfern is training a 17-year-old straight out of school.
It takes up to a year to be fully trained to work at a GP reception, Redfern explained, because the job requires in-depth knowledge about complex patient enrolment procedures, various invoicing codes and different software.
"On top of that, they have to deal with aggressive and anxious patients and keep their cool.
"I currently have no fully trained long-term reception staff."
Redfern believes the shortage of health staff is a compilation of different factors including the challenging work environment the pandemic has created as well as changes to immigration processes.
She has also seen fewer jobseeker referrals.
The Ministry of Social Development says the number of work-ready people on Jobseeker Support in Northland has fallen by more than 1000 in the year to March 31, 2022.
MSD saw a spike in people on Jobseeker Support in March 2021, reaching 7005 Northlanders, up from 5565 in March 2020 and 4659 in the year prior.
MSD's regional commissioner of Northland, Graham Macpherson, said the ministry was referring clients to the health sector and the sawmilling industry but it's not always a match.
"Over the last 12 months in the Northland region we have actively invested in employers, clients and staffing resources to support industry," Macpherson said.
"With record-low unemployment, industry and employers need to think differently about their approaches as we can be part of the solution to assist with their employment or skills shortages. We're keen to talk to industry and employers about how we can work on this together."
The commissioner said there can be complexities, for example around transport, childcare, accommodation and the seasonal or casual nature of some work.
"Other barriers can be the skills required, training or hours a job requires."