Demand for hospitality workers in Wellington has tripled over the past two years, and the water industry experiences up to 25 per cent vacancy at any one time.
Wellington Water and hospitality group Kapura are two of the local industries hoping to entice young school-leavers to help plug labour gaps widened by the pandemic.
Today around 100 students will move through an employment expo from the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, in Trentham Upper Hutt, to be officially opened by Education Minister Chris Hipkins at 9.30am.
Hospitality company Kapura will have a stall at the expo, and chief executive Jamie Williams said they hoped to encourage more young people into the industry - which was plagued by shortages.
"It used to be maybe 30 or 40 vacancies sitting across the group at any one time, and that's up to 100 now," he said.
"Our businesses are now having to work longer and harder – we're really worried for their mental health and wellness."
While there had long been "structural issues" which made it harder to recruit new talent, he said these had been exacerbated by the pandemic – through both closed borders and the pressure of Covid restrictions on venues.
"There's a real crunch in the chef world – it's traditionally been filled by a lot of people coming in as immigrants, and we lose a lot of good chefs overseas."
"And the backpacker market was the way to fill that temporary spike, especially in your busy seasons, for people wanting to earn before travelling around the country."
In Wellington, there had been a lot of "leakage" into the government sector, where working conditions and pay were more appealing – particularly during Covid lockdowns.
On top of this, he said there was still a perception that hospitality was not a "real career" - a myth they were constantly trying to address.
He said hospitality skills made someone highly employable all over the world.
"If you get your chef's qualification you can travel the world on that and chefs are in high demand everywhere," he said.
"And if you talk to any employer in any industry, what they want is people who can build relationships with people … and hospitality will help you connect with all kinds of people.
"If you like people and you care about people, it's a very rewarding industry to be in."
Kapura is one of more than a dozen employers at today's expo, reflecting the wide range of job opportunities in the Hutt Valley.
Recruitment consultant at Equip Recruitment Justin Graham said there were more employment prospects than he'd ever seen.
"Over the past 6–12 months we've probably had more opportunities come up than I've seen in my time," he said.
"There's a lot more demand than there is supply, so it's just trying to find those really good people to get in there.
"The opportunities now are probably greater than they have been because we're missing that whole overseas travel market."
Wellington Water operations training and development manager Brett Marais, who would also be at the expo, said they has 25–30 vacancies at any one time, out of a workforce of 120.
"You could say we're 25 per cent short all the time," he said.
"And because all the water industries are in the same boat, it comes down to who's paying an extra $5 an hour, so we've got a bit of churn we need to take into account."
He said most people didn't consider a career in water infrastructure, nor the public importance of the industry.
"As long as people turn on their tap and water comes out, or they flush the loo and it disappears – that's all they think about water," he said.
"They don't realise the complexity of stuff that goes on in between."
Wellington Water was also working to change its messaging in order to encourage more diversity in their workforce.
"We would definitely like more women involved in our industry, so our messaging has become more around safe drinking water as a public health service, and the disposal of wastewater as an environmental and sustainability issue.
"That kind of messaging seems to work better with young people, rather than telling them you can play with spanners or cut up pipes and things."
LT Guinness director Sean McGuinness said they, too, were looking for more diversity in the construction industry, which was also facing shortages.
Closed borders coupled with a booming housing market meant there were not enough workers to meet the demand for construction.
"Every facet of the building industry at the moment is experiencing human resource shortage," he said.
"It's just a perfect storm at the moment … there's less candidates out here, coupled with the fact we're in a once-in-a-lifetime building boom."
"We're a business of about 300 personnel and we've always got 10–12 positions needing to be filled – that's pretty significant from where we were five or six years ago."
Contrary to public perception, McGuinness said industry jobs were not limited to carpentry, with opportunities available in engineering, architecture and management.
"It's a very sophisticated, dynamic industry but I think one of the great things is you can earn while you learn," he said.
"They're learning while they're doing a 40-hour week … so they're not saddled with this big debt that you see from people who go through tertiary institutions.
"So it gives them a real leg-up."
The Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the Ministry of Social Development to run an Education to Employment programme, which began in April 2020.
During that time the Chamber had supported nearly 2000 high school students and helped around 50 young people find work.