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New Zealand’s construction boom means big demand for talent
New Zealand’s construction industry boom is giving companies in the sector an opportunity to take on more projects than ever before.
According to the 2017 report ‘Future demand for construction workers’, released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), construction investment growth is set to peak in 2020 and increase the requirements for construction-related occupations until at least the end of 2022. This means employers are facing an increasing skills shortage and having to alter the ways they recruit and retain the best staff.
Callum Massie, Property and Construction Manager at Michael Page New Zealand, provides recruitment services across commercial and residential construction.
Massie says, “The majority of businesses within commercial or residential construction now have the opportunity to grow.
“The issue stopping them is purely down to being able to get the right staff members to take on those projects and deliver a good quality of work.”
The MBIE report says overall construction staff demand in New Zealand will increase 11 percent by 2022, to require around 56,000 new employees. Approximately half of that demand will centre on Auckland’s construction industry.
The only region not likely to experience increased demand is Canterbury, where the ongoing earthquake rebuilding requirements already command significant construction resources but are set to tail off by about one percent from 2021.
Occupations facing the largest demand around the country include plumbers, electricians and civil engineering professionals. Auckland’s, in particular, will also see growth in the requirements for project builders and carpenters and joiners.
Massie says every area of construction is now in what he considers a skills shortage, making it a challenge to recruit for any company or project.
“There’s no area where there’s an abundance of staff,” he says.
“From labour to carpenters to subcontractors such as plumbers or electricians, right through to site-based staff like site managers and supervisors, quantity surveyors, project managers and site engineers.
“Every single area of every project is very difficult to recruit, making it hard for people to fill up their business with top-notch people.”
Global recruitment drive encouraging migration
The numbers of construction workers required over the next few years far outstrips local supply. Despite government initiatives to encourage construction apprenticeships, and record numbers of current apprentices, many more people will be needed to meet the growing demand.
The government’s immigration website lists construction, engineering and trades skills in both immediate and long-term demand, and there is an active campaign underway utilising both industry and government resources to seek and place workers from other countries.
Massie says Michael Page is putting its global network to use, connecting with counterparts abroad to attract qualified candidates, and assisting those candidates to navigate the recruitment and relocation process.
He says, “We do look to Australia, which is obviously fairly close by and has a similar way of building, but we do a lot of work with attracting people from South Africa and the UK as well, and we have also sourced candidates from the United States.”
It can be challenging for companies who haven’t employed overseas workers previously to consider recruiting this way, according to Massie.
“For a lot of companies, their first choice in any situation would be to get a Kiwi employee,” he says.
“The reason for that is they’ll have local networks, with an understanding of the contractors, suppliers or subcontractors for the project, but also an understanding of New Zealand building regulations.
“Because timelines and projects are so tight, they want someone to hit the ground running, but in order for companies to continue to grow, or continue to service their clients, they need to actually start considering people from abroad.”
Massie says Michael Page targets skill sets which may not be in great demand in a candidate’s home country, but which New Zealand has a large market for.
He adds, “It’s about finding a balance of opportunities for us to sell the benefits of moving to New Zealand, both for someone’s career but also their lifestyle.”
Unprecedented career progression opportunities
An increasing demand for projects in the construction industry means experienced, senior level staff are highly prized, however, it’s also great news for eager recruits at the less experienced end of the spectrum.
Massie says, “Many people in that junior or intermediate level within construction are having their careers progress at a much quicker speed or pace than they ever have done in the past.
“So they’re in a position where they’re taking on a lot more responsibility earlier on.”
The expectations placed on these candidates can be very high, given this accelerated progression means they don’t have the years of on-the-job experience and confidence their employers or peers are expecting.
Massie says, “It can be hard for junior staff to join a business because we’re seeing a lot more juniors and intermediates take on roles where historically, someone with 20 years’ experience may be running things.”
“And there might be someone in a business who’s got 20 years’ experience, who’s now at exactly the same level as someone with five to ten, which can create a few internal battles.”
Staff retention key issue for employers
More job opportunities means it’s not uncommon for staff to be enticed elsewhere, to take advantage of promotions and better pay or conditions.
Massie says, “Retention is probably one of the biggest focuses any [construction] employer has at the moment.
“People are moving much more frequently than they have done in the past, and that’s because it’s so competitive that a lot of employers are looking to attract people from other businesses who are already trained up in a similar method of construction.
“It’s quite difficult for some businesses who may not be able to offer the biggest salaries or the most exciting projects, because some of these companies will be able to pick up the phone offer all sorts of benefits to someone.”
He says while the immediate benefits of changing jobs may be enticing, it’s wise for candidates to consider their longer term career plans.
“Even though it might seem in the short term financially better for them, it will probably cause them to end up hitting a ‘ceiling’.”
“When the market does slow down, they’ll end up being picked second for a new role, as opposed to someone who might have stayed in their previous role for five or 10 years.”
Employers looking to retain staff should consider adding to salary packages in more inventive ways, says Massie.
He advises, “It could be adding health care into the mix, it could be adding a gym membership.
“It could be even something as simple as paying staff overtime when they work on weekends, which can make a really big difference to individuals who have to go into work on a Saturday.”
Companies taking care of staff
Offering incentives to employees isn’t new, however, some employers are also working hard at addressing job satisfaction and the work-life balance of their staff, using this to retain their best people.
Massie is seeing several areas where companies seek to provide a positive working environment.
“What companies are typically trying to do is ensure their staff aren’t working to excess,” he says.
“There’s an opportunity for every individual probably to work 60 or 70 hours a week if they want, and if you don’t do anything about it typically staff will actually do that.
“So there are a few companies focused on making sure staff aren’t working more than 40 to 45 hours a week, and being really focused around not just completing a job, but around mental health, because they know if they do those sort of hours for too long they’ll burn out and eventually leave.”
Social networks and building relationships between staff is another factor in having a workplace people want to remain at.
Massie says, “A lot of the time it’s a social element which could be a big factor in someone wanting to stay with that business.
“You know, it’s whether they get a chance to have drinks on a Friday, or a chance to spend time socially with their team to build a relationship with their peers.
“That’s a big focus that people aren’t there just to work, that they get some enjoyment to combat the effort they’re putting in.”
Transport times, particularly in Auckland where workers may be commuting for hours each day over an extended period of time, are also an area some companies work to address. Massie says some businesses go as far as only working on projects where they know they have staff living in the area.
“Obviously with lots of construction projects, it could take three months, six months, or a year for a project to finish.
“So, many companies when they’re choosing projects to tender for, are conscious around where staff live.
“They want to ensure if they get a project, they’re going to have available staff who are nearby, so they’re not adding an hour or two hours to their trip every single day.”
Flexibility and happy staff key to success
The workforce demand in construction isn’t slowing anytime soon. More recruitment from within New Zealand and abroad means employers need to remain flexible when seeking new staff, and commit to providing the most appealing workplaces they can.
Massie believes companies who look to minimise staff turnover and add value to their employment offerings will be best placed to grow and succeed in the current market.
He says those with happy staff will naturally draw other good recruits to the business.
“A lack of [staff] turnover, or good staff retention is a very good sell for new people joining the business, because they trust it’ll be a company they can work in for many years to come.”
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