Nelson Tasman has to start attracting skilled construction workers, or risk a workforce crisis, a new report warns.
On Tuesday, the Nelson Tasman Regional Workforce Plan 2022 was released outlining areas for attention in the region.
Developed by the Nelson-Tasman Regional Skills Leadership Group, the report found the workforce in Te Tauihu (the top of the south) faced several challenges, including productivity sitting $1.67 billion below the rest of the countryand low wages and high house prices impacting the affordability and attractiveness of the region.
The average wage of the region was the second lowest in the country, at $57,476 compared to $65,910 nationally, and for housing affordability the region was third to last.
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Regional Skills Leadership Group iwi co-chair Justin Carter said many businesses would have to start rethinking the concept of ‘sunshine wages’ to compete nationallybecause “the workforce is voting with their feet”.
The report highlighted the construction industry, stating there was a “significant gap between our current regional construction workforce, and the supply required to match current and future levels of construction demand”.
In 2022, the region was facing a shortfall of almost 3200 workers, which could grow to 3950 in 2023.
“We are short now, and based on forecast demand will be in crisis if we don’t start creating a skills pipeline now to develop our construction workforce.”
The combination of housing development to meet a growing population, and large infrastructure projects such as the Nelson Hospital, would put increasing pressure on the industry, co-chair Ali Boswijk said.
“There’s a bit of a perfect storm now in terms of being able to deliver the projects we want and having the skills coming through on an ongoing basis.”
The region had to have training and career paths available for rangatahi (young people) who may need have previously left the region, she said.
“The big focus of this is how we essentially grow our own talent as opposed to having to bring it in.”
Iwi co-chair Justin Carter said there was no doubt that meeting the construction workforce shortfall would be “challenging”.
“For some of our infrastructure projects, it means they will go a lot slower and cost a lot more.”
Among the actions in the report was seeking central government funding for a construction skills hub to help the industry share resources, he said.
Fitzgerald Construction project manager Charlie Evans said they had rolling vacancies being advertised as they tried to fill jobs.
“They certainly don’t walk through the door any more.”
He agreed that training and apprenticeships was the best way to try and combat the shortage, by hoping that at least some would stay in the region.
“Training is the only solution I can think of, but then there’s a certain amount of skill versus people who need training that you need on your staff.”
Sharing skills was something that was already occurring naturally within the industry, he said.
The report also warned the aging population was hitting the region hard, and businesses would need to find ways to keep older workers in jobs, and to encourage rangatahi (young people) to train and work in the region.
In 2023, it was forecast 60% of the population in Nelson, and 61% in Tasman, would be working age (15 to 64). But by 2048, that was expected to drop to 51% and 54% respectively.
Carter said the change in the working population would be “huge”, and reinforced the need to have solid pathways for rangatahi to train and enter the workforce in Nelson Tasman.
“How attractive the study options are locally, that will be a determining factor moving forward for some of our young people.”
Boswijk said businesses would need to find ways to keep older workers in the industry as well.
The plan was the first of many that would also look at other industries and demographics, as workforce struggles were being felt across all businesses, she said.