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Addressing the New Zealand’s Construction Industry’s Short-term Skills Shortages

Addressing The New Zealands Construction Industrys Short Term Skills Shortages Featured

​Throughout New Zealand, Construction industry activity has surpassed pre-global financial crisis levels, with the residential, commercial and civil sectors all booming, funded by both private and public-sector investment. With all this activity, one of the most significant challenges is being able to service the demand on skilled labour and tradespeople. Just try to book a builder in to carry out a renovation on your property and you will quickly see what we mean, there are wait times of 6-12 months in some parts of the country.

The challenge is that the speed of growth has outgrown the availability of locally trained people. Whilst there are many good initiatives such as BCITO and the fees-free Youth Guarantee, the output from our education facilities can’t keep up with demand. This challenge is not unique to New Zealand; many developed countries around the world are facing similar issues. However, we’re different from most of these in that our initial talent pool is considerably smaller and we have no immediately bordering countries, like much of Europe does.

There most definitely need to be ongoing discussions – and more importantly, action – in terms of how we as a country address the long-term shortage of skilled construction professionals. The reality is that we need a solution now. If not, many critical projects are going to be delayed, or worse, not even get off the ground to start with. This affects the whole of New Zealand, with things like roads, hospitals, rail and even prisons not keeping up with the expectations of a growing and developing population.

Since the Canterbury earthquakes, and even before, New Zealand has relied on overseas talent to supplement what we already have available domestically. Whilst people from countries like the UK and South Africa are generally seen as a good source of construction professionals due to our commonwealth linkages and similar building practices, people from other regions aren’t looked on as favourably when it comes to hiring. The Philippines being one of these regions. This is in part due to more challenging cultural differences, but also because of several highly publicised examples of exploitation.

However, this shouldn’t detract from the fact that Filipinos are renowned the world over as skilled and committed workers. The Philippines’ number one export is the skills of their people. We’re talking about a country where 2.4 million of their total population is working overseas at any one time. They are hugely valued in a range of markets globally, and can be an integral part of a committed and reliable workforce. With New Zealand facing the skills shortage that it is, our industry is in need of these people – but it isn’t as simple as just buying someone a plane ticket and handing them a contract.

The keys to successfully integrating Filipinos into the New Zealand construction industry to fill short-term gaps are to have strong quality controls in place, work closely with government departments of both countries, and most critically, to do everything with the highest level of integrity. If these things are done then adding the skills of the Filipino people to your business can be a win-win for all parties. 

Whilst any organisation can contemplate engaging skilled construction workers from the Philippines for the reasons mentioned above, the process isn’t easy and can result in a lot of wasted time, effort and money. Because of this, a number of providers, RobLawMax included, have been working to design best practice and build strong relationships with all of the key stakeholders both in New Zealand and in the Philippines. This requires a significant amount of up-front and on-going commitment. For example, as a labour hire agency we have to guarantee our Filipino workers at least 30 hours of work a week for a three-year period. In addition, we work very closely with our Partners to ensure that the right pastoral services and care are in place for every worker. This includes; sorting out living arrangements, purchasing tools, setting up bank accounts and other things we often take for granted. We also have processes in place to help them acclimatise to the New Zealand work environment, with many Filipino workers used to operating in strongly hierarchical workplaces, the casual Kiwi attitude presents quite a contrast!

Whilst for a business, engaging the Filipino workforce through an agency removes a lot of the above risk, this isn’t a regular labour hire arrangement, where fast pace and high turnover are the order of the day. This is a long term, strategic partnership between recruiter, candidate, and client. From a client perspective, there are two key considerations; planning resource demands in advance (the lead time varies dramatically, but with the process RobLawMax has been through over the past six months, workers can now be available within 7 days), and ensuring your organisation provides Filipinos with a platform that enables them to integrate well and be productive quickly. For example, while a strong understanding of English is mandatory for consideration, like many international workers, it still takes time to adapt to our Kiwi way of communicating, especially coming from a country where there is a very literal communication style.

While the lead time and adjustment period are certainly factors clients have to get used to, the consistent feedback we get from our clients is that Filipino workers are motivated, hardworking, turn up on time, and are there to do one thing: a good job. With most leaving their families back home, and earning infinitely more than they would be domestically, their motivation is to perform as well as they can in their roles to better support their families.

If your business is struggling to find high quality and reliable construction professionals we’d be more than happy to expand on the ins and outs of helping you to engage the Filipino workforce via RobLawMax.