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A Struggle To Find Skilled Workers; Apprentices Needed

News release

Businesses Struggle To Find Skilled Workers; Apprentices Needed
6 February 2013
While New Zealand’s unemployment rate hit 7.3% in the last quarter of 2012, over half of the country’s businesses are struggling to recruit skilled workers, according to the latest research from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR).

The IBR reveals that 51% of businesses in New Zealand are finding it hard to source skilled workers – well above the global average of 39%. Of these figures, 17% found it very difficult, 34% difficult, 11% easy and 3% very easy. Of the 44 countries surveyed, New Zealand was ranked 12th in difficulty of recruiting skilled workers.

Tim Keenan, Partner and National Director, Privately Held Business for Grant Thornton New Zealand, said that what was even more illuminating were the key reasons given for the scarcity of skilled workers and ways of fixing the problem.

“Fifty-four per cent said that the increased migration of skilled workers leaving the country was the leading factor, 40% indicated a poor motivation or attitude amongst applicants and 26% a restriction on the flow of immigration into New Zealand,” he said.

The research indicated a concerning lack of both qualifications and work experience.
Seventy-four per cent noted a lack of required qualifications and 72% a lack of appropriate work experience with 63% citing a low number of applicants.

“When asked how to fix the problem, 98% wanted the Government to actively promote apprenticeships and other youth training initiatives.

“A business is nothing without its people, just as a strategy is nothing without the people to drive it forward. The best people boost productivity, save a business time and money, and ultimately grow the organisation. The shortage of skilled workers reported by business leaders should, therefore, provoke real concern, especially at a time when unemployment is running so high,” he said.

“It is good to see that the Government has already started to take note of these concerns with its recent revamp of the apprenticeship system with financial incentives for employers and workers to participate.

“Another area to look at is improving dialogue between educational institutions and business leaders to ensure there is a close relationship between courses offered and skills needed. It is of concern that we have young people leaving tertiary education with diplomas and degrees without the appropriate skills for today’s work environment,” he said.

Christchurch rebuild:

The Christchurch rebuild has already created its own challenges over the last twelve months as demand for construction, engineering and geotechnical skill sets outstrip supply. This is to be expected and understood given the magnitude and impact of the earthquakes on this region. However there is not the time to train in the circumstances and these roles are being filled by overseas skilled workers.

A number of programmes are being promoted locally and by central government to encourage unskilled workers and those that are unemployed to apply for new roles that are being created each day within the construction sector in Canterbury.

“These skill shortages are only going to get more severe as the Christchurch rebuild picks up pace. Already we are seeing firms seek creative solutions by recruiting overseas to fill the skill gaps that we now face in this country. The skills and work ethic of the overseas talent appears to be at good levels resulting in repeat visit to these countries for recruitment.
For example, engineering consultancy Aurecon has increased its workforce from 60 to 160 in Christchurch since the earthquakes and the number of overseas born staff has increased from 10 to 60 in that time. Leighs Construction has recruited 23 Filipino builders with another group arriving this month – and we are only at the start of the rebuild,” he said.

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 12,500 businesses per year across 44 economies. This unique survey draws upon 21 years of trend data for most European participants and 10 years for many non-European economies. For more information, please visit:

Data collection
Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton International's core research partner -Experian. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis. The research is carried out primarily by telephone.

IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with more than 6,500 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted between August and December 2012.


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