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Three Key Takeaways From ChristchurchNZ’s Economic Insights Breakfast

Innovation, collaboration and education as means to attract talent during the tight labour market was the focus of a ChristchurchNZ-hosted event for 160 business leaders to get an up-to-date look at the Christchurch economy.

ChristchurchNZ Chief Executive Ali Adams opened the June 30 event with an overview of ChristchurchNZ’s work, including its targeted efforts addressing the labour shortage. Senior Economist Jorge Chang Urrea followed with a regional economic update, then Adams was joined onstage for an audience Q&A with a panel of industry and business leaders. The panel included Deputy CE of the Tertiary Education Commission, Gillian Dudgeon; Managing Director of HamiltonJet, Ben Reed; CE of Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, Leeann Watson; and Datacom Head of South Island, Tracy McElroy.

The key takeaways from the panel discussion were:

1. Crisis brings innovation. Improving productivity through investment in technology, automation, and systems were cited as examples that business should be looking to when skills shortages are constraining their operations or growth aspirations. McElroy said, “The Christchurch tech sector is going through a massive boom,” and cited Datacom’s growth to almost double the number of employees in Christchurch in the last 15 months. She also cited remote work as a transformative trend to have come from Covid-19 that creates opportunity for NZ businesses across the board to think differently.

Organisations need to adapt and change to attract people – so they need to think about how they may need to reposition themselves or industry to attract talent. This filters down to perceptions from young students and their parents and talking about different career options available with programmes like Inspiring the Future where business representatives are asked to share their career or role to help widen student’s aspirations. Another example is how Datacom relaunched their brand to not be about tech but about bringing imagination to life and providing purpose and meaning to employees.

Inflation is putting pressure on businesses to increase wages, but as Watson said, “Wage growth has increased at a greater rate than inflation over the last ten years; it’s the last two quarters we have seen the spike in inflation and it’s important to recognise that for businesses to increase wages they need to make more money – in this climate that’s very challenging”. Businesses need to do a balancing act and look at other ways to retain staff such as understanding what flexible working means to their workforce or what fair/decent work means to employees, she said.

2. The importance of collaboration. Reed gave an update on the challenges of hiring after having previously shared HamiltonJet’s struggles to find enough skilled workers to keep up with increased demand for its products. He was pleased that manufacturing companies had moved from hiring from each other to working together to grow the labour force. And slightly encouraged by the Government’s response, which was to open up just 100 additional skilled migrant visas, he asked other employers to “please join us in hiring from overseas.”

McElroy said that ecosystem thinking was important rather than just focusing on your own company’s issues. She said employers should ask, “How can we be more inclusive?” and that if industry supported more women into the tech sector, the workforce could double.

3. Communication is key. This was reflected by speakers urging employers and employees to not be afraid to ask for help, as resources, inspiration and information were all available. Watson said that in a tight labour market, employers had to be prepared to tell their story and explain their purpose to a new generation of workers who were more likely to be concerned about if their work aligned with their values. She reminded the audience that “in this market, you are being interviewed as much as you are interviewing.”

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