08 June 2018

Southland’s business harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few

The Southland Times

Southland businesses say the Government’s immigration policy is not working for the region.

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Neil McAra said the south was facing a skills shortage.

It was the biggest issue facing businesses in the region for the past several years, McAra said.

“We’ve got some great opportunities to grow and be prosperous, but we’re being limited by this labour shortage.

“With an aging demographic, not only are we short of staff now, but we’ve got a workforce that is dropping off.”

To counter the issue, the chamber is proposing a New Zealand-wide regional policy on immigration.

McAra said there needed to be a two-tier policy approach to immigration, one for Auckland and another for regional New Zealand.

“Clearly it’s not working for the regions at the moment,” McAra said.

“You’ve got to deal with it as a policy of Auckland versus the regions, because a lot of their concerns have come out of the Auckland overcrowding issue with all the migrants going there.

“Why put a sledgehammer across the entire country for a problem that is specific to one region?”

Changes to immigration policy would be needed to help kickstart the Southland economy, with a competitive labour market making it difficult to attract domestic workers to Southland, McAra said.

“We’re having the odd success, but not enough to deal with the skill shortages we are facing.

“That’s a harder piece, because it’s not an immigration issue, it’s an attraction issue to promote Southland as a whole – and you’re competing with other regions and CBD areas for them.”

With current unemployment levels at just 2.7 per cent in Southland, there was currently huge demand for workers, particularly in the manufacturing and farming sectors, McAra said.

“At the moment you’ve got Tiwai bringing on another potline, so they’re short of staff but then you’ve got all the service support for Tiwai as well.”

EIS chief executive Dean Addie said his company has had difficulty recruiting staff to Southland for several years.

The current immigration rules were difficult enough to work through let alone any rule changes that would make it harder, Addie said.

“For New Zealand to grow we need a fit for purpose employment training regime with a pipe line of the right people entering the workforce and a modern immigration policy to complement it.”

Southland DisAbility Enterprises general manager Hamish McMurdo said he thinks his business could benefit from a immigration policy that supported regional growth.

The business struggled to find the right candidates for skilled and semi-skilled positions operating machinery and equipment as well as positions that involved a lot of physical labour, McMurdo said.

There was a lack of skilled people in Southland to be able to fill the roles they had, he said.

The problem is also being felt by international students in Southland.

McAra said a key Southland Regional Development Strategy initiative was International student growth at SIT and schools.

In presentations, SIT has outlined that just 20 per cent of SIT International graduates get a job and stay in Southland. However, of those who leave, 73 per cent would prefer to stay in Southland if they could get a good job.

The Chamber supported SIT’s proposal for a cap on the number of international students Auckland-based private training establishments could take, and reducing amounts students need in their bank accounts to study outside of Auckland, McAra said.

It also backed SIT’s call to retain post-study work visas for sub-degree graduates, increasing the post study job search visa from one year to two years if studying and job searching outside of Auckland, and increasing the points gained for the Skilled Migrant Category, if taking a job outside of Auckland.


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