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Infrastructure skills crisis requires foreign recruitment

Media Release: For immediate release

Infrastructure skills crisis requires urgent foreign recruitment

7 May, 2019

New Zealand’s construction sector faces a decades-long skills and labour deficit as universities and apprenticeship schemes fail to keep up with demand, say industry leaders.

With complex projects of a scope and scale never undertaken in New Zealand before and the construction pipeline forecast to exceed $41 billion by 2023 without reaching a construction peak, the need for specialist talent is acute, says Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison.

“We’re actively involved in City Rail Link, Auckland Light Rail, the Eastern Busway Initiative and many other infrastructure development projects but we can’t achieve all we need to without bringing in some specialist talent,” Ellison says.

To address the industry shortage, international recruitment campaign LookSee Build, which two years ago attracted more than 15,000 applicants to New Zealand from around the world, is being ramped up to address the crisis.

“We can’t achieve all we need to without bringing in some specialist talent, so we’re keen to attract people who have worked elsewhere on large rail and transport projects, both from a technical and project management perspective,” says Ellison.

The Pacificon Construction Pipeline Report 2018 shows total construction value (infrastructure, non-residential, residential) is forecast to grow 9% to more than $41 billion from 2021-2023 without reaching a construction peak.

National infrastructure projects account for a fifth of all construction activity and is forecast to reach $7.3 billion by 2023, while commercial projects dominate non-residential (accounting for more than half of all activity by value).

LookSee Build spokesman Hamish Price says government initiatives, including the new Infrastructure Commission (providing strategy, planning and procurement coordination and delivery support to the sector) and Construction Skills Action Plan (labour training), may in time address the skills crisis but the sector needs to recruit now.

Construction Strategy Group Chairman Geoff Hunt says the new Commission will make a demonstrable difference to planning and resourcing large projects. The Group is very encouraged by the work MBIE is undertaking to redevelop a labour forecasting model.

“The forecasting model will identify 70 different types of skills required and I believe we’re going to be shocked at the shortfall in some construction sector skill categories out into the future. I hope that it will ignite action in the sector and in particular in the universities, polytechnics and other training organisations. ” Hunt says. “The Universities and apprenticeship schemes are producing more graduates but not nearly enough.”

He says the skills shortage is at all levels but most acute at the senior level: “We’re talking project managers, project directors, quantity surveyors, design managers and so on.”

Susan Freeman-Greene, Chief Executive, Engineering New Zealand, concurs: “New Zealand desperately needs more engineers ¬– and we’re not training enough.”

She says more than a third of graduates work overseas within seven years of graduation, compounding the shortage and necessitating recruitment offshore: “We don’t see the engineering skills shortage ending anytime soon because demand is constrained by the lack of supply.”

Ellison: “I am excited about the opportunity to make a real difference to Auckland and how we move around the city. We’re now building a truly world class city and we need to attract exceptional talent to New Zealand to help us achieve that ambition.”

Price says ongoing state highway projects, such as Puhoi to Warkworth, Waikato Expressway, Mt Messenger Bypass, the Manawatu Gorge, Transmission Gully and the Christchurch Southern Motorway represent large human resource allocations, while the $1.4B in road improvements announced will in totality require significant resourcing.

Various rail, light rail and urban public transport projects also required significant top level construction talent, Price says.

Specific roles sought include project managers and engineers, site supervisors, civil engineers, rail engineers and stormwater and land development engineers.

LookSee Build has successfully established itself as a global recruitment campaign, attracting thousands of applicants from around the world to work in New Zealand in the IT and construction sectors.

“New Zealand is a very attractive destination with a great reputation among the global construction sector, which gives us a competitive advantage,” notes Price. “We exceeded industry expectations in 2017 and we are very confident we will attract a top field of exceptional people.

“But the LookSee Build recruitment will be ongoing because of the sheer scale of industry’s needs,” he adds.

More information about the recruitment campaign can be found at:


About LookSee Build

LookSee Build is an innovative international talent procurement programme that turns the traditional recruitment process on its head by taking the opportunities in New Zealand to the world and, in turn, bringing the world back to New Zealand.

It is specifically designed to address an acute skills and talent shortage in the construction sector and future-proof the building industry as the country gears up for the largest infrastructure build in the nation’s history.

Acting on behalf of a range of participating employers, including public and private sector entities, the LookSee Build campaign is targeting highly skilled professionals from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Singapore, Philippines, the US and Canada to assist them in becoming ‘New Zealand-ready’ before match-making candidates who are interested, qualified and available with the appropriate employer.

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