WHEN ACCESS IS INCLUSIVE
The people who are likely to participate and flourish in the life of Christchurch and its surrounding suburbs will do so only when access to jobs, quality housing, transport, education and health services and communities are inclusive. Restor ing social wellbeing is a holistic and collaborative process. It empowers com munities who are in transition as people leave familiar neighbourhoods and re settle in new areas.
During the rebuild and recovery period which may stretch further beyond 2016 large numbers of extra construction workers will be required to domicile them selves in greater Christchurch. Depending on the pace of recovery, between 20,000 and 30,000 extra construction-related workers could be required at the peak of the rebuild. In addition, workers outside of the construction industry will also be needed. Christchurch will require engineers, architects and designers, planners and building control professionals and is only now just beginning to recruit them nationally and internationally.
CERA is facilitating the Labour Market Programme along with stakeholders. Its purpose is to ensure that citizens have high-value employment opportunities and a skilled workforce available to support sustained business and growth. The programme will retain, attract, educate and train the skilled workforce needed for the rebuild and ongoing economic growth. It will also identify and remove any obstacles or barriers to the labour supply required for the rebuild.
The construction trades are going to be extremely important throughout the reconstruction and improvement phases of Christchurch’s rebuild. Over the next year and beyond it will be important that people already here who are interested in learning a trade, brushing up their skills, returning to complete trades qual ifications, or taking up supervisory roles should now start looking at the options that are available.
IN ITS OWN BACK YARD
Budget 2011 has already provided up to $42-million to kick-start trades training for the Canter bury region but Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has revealed that the government expects the peak of building demand to come within 2- to 4-years time (2015-2019), so training the right people at the right time for the right jobs is crucial because at the end of the day machines don’t build cities, people do.
For young workers there is likely to be a delay as employers recruit older more experienced work ers before looking to hiring and developing train ees. There is also a risk that some groups of job seekers may not benefit from the creation of jobs in the short-term, which means there is a risk of longer periods of unem ployment.
It will be very important to reconnect people with employment as quickly as possible because their confidence levels and skills can deteriorate quickly when they are out of work. They may also have difficulties reattaching themselves to the labour market in the future due to technological changes often occurring in job sites. Likewise, for those who fall through the cracks many higher-skilled people out of work have portable skills that they can take to other regions and countries like Australia.
The rebuild will also put much pressure by hampering regional economic de velopment outside Christchurch’s boundaries. Recently in its own back yard, growing concerns were already being voiced by such business- and labour-related groups as the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, the Otago-Southland Employers’ Association and the Southland Chamber of Commerce. About 100 of their senior representative gathered in a meeting this end-August to discuss the ‘Southland Supply Plan’ and to explore how Southland can take part in the rebuild of quake-damaged Christchurch City without shooting itself on the foot in the process.
A GLARING SET OF FANGS
The supply plan is being developed not only determine which hand to lend in the Christchurch rebuild effort but also to prevent any severe drain of skills coming from the region. While the initiative was not about preventing any skilled labour work from coming into Christchurch businesses per se, participants made it clear that they wanted to maintain their own skills pool in the region. Concerns like these naturally lurch forward when a country has a small population to rely on and New Zealand is no exception. In these instances, it does reveal a glaring set of fangs and it’s not the only time it’s done so.
A small response in the right direction perhaps is that a special immigration skill shortage list from the Department of Labour will eventually allow employers to import high-skilled workers to cover the big gap of locals who can’t be trained in time. In the same vein, the Department is also considering having contractors’ commit to training and trainees as a factor when assessing future government reconstruction contracts.
As it is, Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) current stance has for some time now to recommend that Canterbury and Christchurch-based employers list their vacancies with Work & Income New Zealand first before looking into recruiting overseas workers before they step in and help New Zealand employers to get in touch with migrants with the right skills.
Likewise, New Zealand employers who are unable to fill their vacancy locally and decide to support a work visa application for a non-New Zealander can provide evidence of Work and Income support and engagement upfront. This will give both the potential employer and employee a greater assurance of meeting the labour market test as part of the INZ work visa assessment and will also make the processing timeframe for the work visa much shorter.
One would guess there’s nothing unusual with taking that stance because it usually works work fine in normal circumstances. But what then when demand for labour begins to grow rapidly and employers find themselves scrambling frantically to fulfil their contract timetable requirements? Would applying for an Approval in Principle (AIP) with INZ solve the bottleneck? Well, it turns out that an AIP can take some time to process because INZ consults with various external parties before making a decision even under normal circumstances. So what’s the plan Stan, when things start getting really frantic?
VOTING WITH THEIR FEET
Constraints complicated by bureaucratic crawl and lack of contingency planning creates se vere consequences for employers confronted with high level and complex demands of re build work which necessitate attracting and keeping not only skilled labour from the region of Canterbury and other parts of the country but possibly also those from outside the coun try’s own borders.
Whether it happens sooner or later, the influx of all these workers will happen. When it does, a new demand for accommodation, housing, food and a host of other settling in services raises its head very quickly. That gives rise to another set of potentially serious problems because unhappy or disgruntled workers tend to vote with their feet more often than not.
The Latin phrase “Amat Victoria Curam” in English means “Victory Favours The Prepared”. So, let’s not make the same mistakes as in the past. As Minister Gerry Brownlee has bluntly warned us, “New Zealand has something of a record of doing things a bit half-arsed.” As case in point, Brownlee cites the Auckland Har bour Bridge, which was too small as soon as it was opened in 1959, Wellington’s 3-lane Terrace Tunnel and even Parliament Buildings completed in the 1970s with the addition of the Beehive as examples of ill-conceived and ill-prepared plans of scale that tanked before they even got off the ground.
Big reputations are at stake here too, especially New Zealand’s carefully crafted own. Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley, who has researched immigra tion and employment issues in New Zealand for the past three decades, believes the size of the influx could lead to the country’s third major immigration wave. “Christchurch is going to need to rebuild in a social sense as well as a physical sense. You need champions for the rebuild, you need champions for worker recruitment and I think you will need champions for making Christchurch a welcoming city“, he advises.
“There is a lot of goodwill in Christchurch but we will need to prepare for this more than we are imagining. We need to have more conversations and to fully engage with the community before the workers and migrants arrive“, he fur ther adds.
Quo vadis, Nova Zealandia? Where are you going, New Zealand?