19 February 2015

Southland seeks 12,000 new workers

The Southland Times

School leavers and migrants are being targeted to solve a massive workforce shortage facing Southland.

A Venture Southland report says the region could be facing shortages of up to 12,000 employees in the next 15 years due to an aging population and people leaving the workforce.

Southland’s unemployment rate of 3.3 per cent was the second lowest in the country and revealed a “tight and tightening” labour market.

Venture Southland spokesman Steve Canny said many of the people able to work were already working, so more people were needed to fill positions now and into the future.

“We have a large number of unfilled jobs at the moment, in the next 12 months we predict 4,500 jobs will become available throughout Southland.”

Industry insiders said Southland’s labour shortage was in sectors including the agriculture and agriculture service industries, electricians, mechanics, accountants, lawyers and truck drivers.

The main reason for the shortage was an aging population, meaning people were needed to replace those who retired and died, Canny said.

“Our first choice is putting local people in local jobs. The next choice is attracting and retaining skilled migrants.”

Identifying the best way to attract skilled migrants was a work in progress, but the plan to put local people in local jobs was well advanced, Canny said.

Surveys had revealed work in the agriculture and agriculture service industries was high on the list of career choices for high school students in Southland, so steps were being taken to ensure those teens got into the industry early so they could achieve their goals.

This would in part be achieved through a Southland youth futures programme which linked young people and education providers with career opportunities.

The program was the brain child of Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson who said employers struggled to get the right people to work in the agriculture and agriculture service industries.

The youth futures programme would enable youngsters to be matched up with suitable employers so they could learn the ropes and become passionate about the industry, he said.

“As a community we need to encourage people to train for the jobs that are essential in our region.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce chairman Sean Woodward said a lot more businesses were needing to advertise and recruit from overseas.

More electricians, mechanics, engineers, accountants, lawyers and the like were needed, he said.

Steps were being taken to address the problem, with Southland’s councils and the chamber in the process of developing a regional strategy which would identify employment opportunities and other areas of focus, he said.

A Southland company not looking offshore for skilled workers was Invercargill-based chartered accountancy firm Crowe Horwath.

HR business partner Kerry du Mez said Crowe Horwath hired from around New Zealand, brought trainees through the company and hired graduates from Otago University.

The company wanted assurances from employees hired from outside the region that they had a commitment to staying in Southland due to the training and investment put into them, she said.