A Waimate-based businessman who has just completed a two-million dollar feed mill, believes his project underscores the need for concessions on immigration for certain sectors.
Aoraki Stockfoods owner Ken Buckingham's long awaited new feed mill is finally in the commissioning and optimising stages after several years of construction and fit-out.
During that time, all sorts of people had worked on it including many who hailed from overseas, Buckingham said.
He said he was surprised to discover recently he had four sub-contractors from different corners of the world on site at once.
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An already tight labour market, with very low unemployment, has been exacerbated by closed borders due to Covid-19.
The country just experienced the largest drop in net migration ever, according to Statistics New Zealand.
Figures released earlier this year show net migration provisionally estimated at 6,600 in the year ended March 2021 compared with 91,900 in the year ended March 2020, a drop of 85,400.
Automation Engineer Ben Pechard, of France, has lived in New Zealand for the past five years with his Japanese wife and two-and-a-half year old twins.
His trips to Waimate are the first time he’s been out of Auckland since the babies arrived. He returns north for weekends to help with the children.
He and his family were planning a trip home when Covid-19 struck, and he said his parents are eagerly awaiting the resumption of international travel, so they can visit.
Macedonian electrician Dali Jordanovski has made a life in Waimate with his wife and two young daughters.
Jordanovski hails from the historic city of Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, which has a population of about 600,000. He and his family love Waimate (population of about 3000) which he describes as welcoming.
His colleague at Des Scott Electrical, Shane Gregoran, hails from Croatia.
She has lived in New Zealand for eight years and in Waimate for the past four.
Gregoran said Waimate is peaceful and the people are friendly.
She is still finishing her apprenticeship, and said the firm is constantly busy with a combination of residential and industrial work.
Prior to the pandemic, she had been back to Croatia a few times. She now relies on technology to stay in touch with her family.
Christchurch company Innovative Design has been involved in the project with managing director Jeff Todd travelling back and forth from his Rolleston-base.
Todd said he’d been working on the fit-out since the shell was built in 2019.
He said there were simply not enough experienced people in the country to fill the type of roles needed, and those with highly specific skills and experience such as Pechard’s were few and far between.
Todd believes there’s a lot to be gained from working alongside internationally trained experts.
“When you combine their skills, training and expertise with our number 8 fencing wire mentality you get something really special,” he said.
Todd believes there needs to be exemptions to the border closures for people with certain skills.
He said there’s no doubt he has lost work due to a lack of staff.
“We could be doing a hell of a lot more.”
Another of Todd’s employees, a South African, was not on site when Stuff visited, but made up the quartet of international staff working on the feed mill.
Trade Staff New Zealand general manager Janice McNabb said there was no doubt some employers were struggling to hire suitably skilled staff.
“There is a chronic skill shortage in the trades we supply into right across skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers,” she said.
“While most businesses have a New Zealand first approach [to employment], when we’ve got unemployment at the levels we’re experiencing it’s really hard. This is going to continue to create an issue for the country as long as the borders remain closed,” McNabb said.
“Most companies are happy to take on apprentices, but we’re a long way from filling the gaps with locally trained staff,” she said.
McNabb said impending immigration changes in November will affect all businesses.
While she welcomes regulations to protect vulnerable migrants, she is concerned about the work companies are missing out on due to the shortages.
“Across most sectors we would have businesses who simply aren’t able to tender for work because they know they don’t have the resources to build the building or seal the road.”
“There has been lots of publicity about different major projects, but there’s probably a shortage of some 10,000 people to complete them” McNabb said.
Immigration New Zealand's regional skills shortage list for Canterbury includes roles for everything from ski-instructor and mechanical engineer to teacher, farmer, apiarist, arborist, baker and foundry moulder.
Employers must show they’ve been unable to recruit New Zealanders for the job, and approved migrants would only qualify for a temporary essential skills visa (for up to three years), which does not necessarily allow for residency applications.
Buckingham said the company has struggled to meet demand for it’s calf meal since 2017, and had even stopped advertising as they weren't always able to take on new customers.
He said the new mill successfully handled an order for nine tonnes of calf meal last week, a far cry from the 30 tonnes an hour the mill is expected to be able to manufacture once it’s operating at full speed.
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