The tight labour market and the growth challenges it poses to employers was the key focus of a gathering of employers, industry leaders and public sector agencies hosted today by ChristchurchNZ.
ChristchurchNZ Senior Economist Jorge Chang Urrea provided an overview of the key regional economic indicators and was joined onstage for an audience Q&A by a panel of industry and business leaders, comprised of:
- Leeann Watson, CEO of the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce
- Phillip Roth, Director at BDO
- Patrick Bryant, Area Manager Westpac
The panel was then followed by an interactive labour market workshop where attendees provided more input and practical next steps for our region.
Key takeaways from the presentation, panel discussion and labour market workshop are:
1. There are not enough skilled workers
Employers are desperate to find and retain staff, but they’re simply not able to find people to fill their vacancies. This is across the board – both in lower skilled jobs through to very specialised roles. This tight labour market is also reflected in Canterbury’s key indicators with a decreasing unemployment rate, high employment growth (Chch at 7.7% growth, compared to 1.7% nationally in Sept 21) and a steady increase in the number of jobs advertised online. There is huge opportunity-cost arising at firm-level from inability meet customer demand which ultimately constrains growth in community prosperity.
2. We can’t rely on migration settings to change in the short term
New Zealand has been addicted to the short-term fix of employing skilled migrants. Given this tap has been turned off, employers need to refocus on upskilling or reskilling their own staff – both in terms of practical skills and soft skills (such as change management and leadership).
3. We’re all facing the same problem
Employers – both public and private, are facing the same problem in trying to find and retain staff. We need to work together to help solve the labour market challenge. Ideas raised by attendees included looking at the talent pathway from education to employment to ensure we’re teaching the right skills to support future business needs, publicly raising and drawing attention to the issues employers are facing, through to supporting each other personally given the stress on business owners and leaders.
The public sector and private sector are working hard to build talent pathways that reach across society from high-schools and universities to older workers with capacity to do more – these pathways deal with the medium to long-term need. Skilled migrants are needed in the short-term.
4. We need to think creatively about how we solve the problem
How can we approach the challenge differently? Leanne Watson noted how the region learnt from the earthquake response when we encouraged women into non-traditional trades and asked how we can use this approach again. Can businesses automate more by investing in capital infrastructure and/or systems? How can we change perceptions of sectors that have had a huge amount of change, such as manufacturing or agriculture?
Phillip Roth asked if employers can share resources across sectors or go “beyond the pay packet” by offering social or wellbeing benefits to employees or even explore employee share schemes to help retain talent. Many employers are exemplars in terms of apprenticeships, wages, benefits and employee experience – these practices need to be more consistently applied across all sectors and businesses.
5. Canterbury has some strong points of difference to leverage
Canterbury has been outperforming the national economic activity rate since May 2021 (see Canterbury Economic Index), has more affordable housing, able to offer a city lifestyle without the ‘big city’ hassles and a strong performance in key export industries – including dairy, meat and manufacturing. We can leverage these unique selling points to attract skilled workers nationally, and when borders open, internationally.
With thanks to the attendees for their time and participation and special thanks to our panel members Leeann Watson, Phillip Roth and Patrick Bryant.