From horse dentists to film animators - you name it - New Zealand is facing an acute skilled worker shortage that threatens our long-term economic growth and standards of living.
Headlines scream almost daily of shortages in sectors from health and education to information technology and horticulture.
With our unemployment rate at a record low of 3.4 per cent and the net outflow of people to Australia last month hitting its highest level in 6 years, it seems almost every trade and profession is crying out for more skilled workers.
Immigrants to Australia are among around 20,000 people who leave New Zealand each year and projections based on our ageing population show the number of people retiring will outstrip the number of young people entering the workforce by 2020.
It's a global trend. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says worldwide, 70 million people will retire over the next 25 years but only five million will replace them. That means we face fierce competition from governments everywhere worried about brain drain, skill shortages and lack of career opportunities.
Despite the severity of the problem, the Department of Labour says ranking occupations that are suffering the worst skills shortages is too difficult because "worst" is a subjective term.
"Would you say the worst is the one with the most vacant positions, or the one with the greatest economic or social impact? Is a shortage of 10 surgeons more or less worse than a shortage of 50 engineers?" asks a department spokesman.
The department does compile a long-term skills shortage list to help industry and employers identify and target the migrants New Zealand needs most for future growth.
Of the 78 occupations on the list, 30 are in the health sector, primarily doctors and nurses.
Secondary school teachers, university lecturers, food technologists, vets, social workers, planners, project managers and engineers are among the 16 occupations listed in the broad, professional category.
The third largest category, for trades, lists 14 occupations including plumbers, fitters, turners, welders, electricians, diesel and motor mechanics, automotive electricians, cabinet makers, boat builders, carpenters, joiners and line mechanics.
Information technology is the fourth largest category with 10 occupations, including senior testers, systems analysts, programmers and solutions architects.
Three electronics occupations - design engineers, management and project management staff and electronics technicians - are listed, as well as three horticultural occupations - grower managers, orchard managers and crop production and agronomist managers.
Last but not least are chefs in the sales and services category and film animators in the creative industries category.
With most employment sectors worried about worker shortages, the long-term prognosis for the country's economic health is grim.
Short term, the shortage of doctors and nurses spells a life-or-death diagnosis for the public health sector unless something changes quickly, says Ian Powell, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).
Of about 11,000 doctors on New Zealand's medical register, about 3000 are specialists employed by district health boards, 2500 are junior doctors, 3000 are GPs, 200 teach in medical schools and the rest are either in private practice or semi-retired.
An 18-month survey by ASMS up to July 2007 showed one specialist doctor a week was leaving New Zealand for Australia and Powell thinks the situation is probably worse now.
With doctors able to earn almost twice as much in Australia as they do here and enjoy better working conditions, the urge to cross the Tasman is becoming irresistible to more and more public sector specialists who feel undervalued here.
"The situation is serious. Doctors are now describing it as a crisis," says Powell.
Because Australia and New Zealand's training and clinical standards are essentially the same, doctors find it easy to move to Australia and its proximity means they don't have to cut their ties with home.
Australia's superior working conditions also mean it is beating New Zealand in the bid to attract doctors from other countries.
"Australia could swallow all of our doctors and not solve their own shortage problem," says Powell. "We need to stop the bleeding urgently."
A long-standing, chronic and largeshortage of registered nurses - the health workforce's biggest single group of professional workers - also shows no signs of improving.
Poor data makes it difficult to determine how many more than New Zealand's 50,000 registered nurses hospitals need for healthy staffing levels, says New Zealand Nurses Association chief executive Geoff Annals.
"In 2002, out of sheer frustration, we did our own calculations based on reports put out by major district health boards and came up with a figure of 2000. It wouldn't be any less now."
All areas of public health suffer from nursing shortages. But planned services such as elective surgery are cancelled first so nurses can be reassigned to areas of urgent need.
"We know from our research that the single most important factor driving nurses out of their profession or out of the country is that they no longer feel that they can practise to the standard required of them.
"Maintaining safety in hospitals is paramount and that becomes a huge stress when you are understaffed. The bottom line is they don't want to do a bad job.
"Unfortunately, for district health boards trying to cut costs, nurses' salaries are one of biggest single budget savings because they are such a large part of the workforce."
Retaining our 17,500 secondary school teachers is also a problem.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff says New Zealand loses a third of the secondary teachers it trains within five years after they graduate.
The latest New Zealand Education Gazette lists 200 vacancies _ the highest since the early 1990s, Duff says.
Technology teachers, who account for 15 per cent of vacancies, are the most sought after, followed by te reo teachers, who account for 9 per cent, then English, maths and science teachers, all at around 4 per cent.
"Unfortunately, there is no short-term solution to the shortage of technology teachers," says Duff.
"Many teachers leave because, without university degrees, they can't access top pay scales even though they have great industry experience.
"It's a serious fault in the system, which has not been addressed."
Unlike doctors, nurses and teachers, information technology workers do not make up large proportions of the country's 2.2 million-strong workforce.
But they are a critical part of its make-up, says Campbell Hepburn, the general manager of IT&T for Hudson, New Zealand's largest recruitment agency.
"Technology is an economic enabler. It has to be in place for the economy to grow and the sector is not growing fast enough."
New Zealand has about 41,000 IT workers but needs 125,000, says Hepburn, who adds that university enrolment for IT courses has dropped 44 per cent during the past four years.
Of 134 specialist IT areas, 118 are listed as having acute shortages and Hepburn points to senior designers, testers and business analysts as some of the jobs in extremely high demand.
"Employers need to get the message out to potential employees that working in New Zealand gives them broad experience and an opportunity to progress in their careers," says Hepburn, who this month is running seminars at New Zealand House in London for prospective IT employees.
Hudson, along with Immigration New Zealand, the Department of Labour and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, is also in Hanover this month at CeBIT, the world's largest IT trade fair, to attract IT workers.
Not being able to keep pace with new technology is a key problem compounding the skills shortage in the manufacturing sector, says Michael Burgess, of the Employers and Manufacturers' Association (EMA).
Burgess, who runs Pathways to Employment expos for prospective trades employees, says EMA has focused on trying to solve skills shortages in manufacturing, because it is the country's largest employment sector with 235,000 employees.
"Anyone with good skills in a trades area is in high demand," says Burgess.
"Welders are at the top of the list, followed by technicians, process workers, fitters, turners and engineers.
"Various factors are affecting the manufacturing workforce including emigration and our ageing population. But new machines also require higher skill levels and we are not keeping up with new technology."
Burgess says people should look at business as a career opportunity, instead of being occupation-focused.
"As a country, we need business growth to keep the tax base sufficiently high to pay for the services we need.
"When services and living standards start to drop, that's when social dysfunction starts to set in."
School leavers with a good range of NCEA credits should think of a trade as a stepping stone to starting their own business.
"After all, that's where most of our millionaires started out."