Article: Speak Easy

Mike’s Monetary Solution For The  Skills Shortage with Michael BoturMike’s Monetary Solution For The Skills Shortage with Michael Botur

Please don’t laugh, but often when I want to hear the truth, I check what the politicians are saying.

Yeah yeah, politicians are all liars or whatever. But it’s not as if the news media will always give you the straight story. Take it from me: I have a journalism diploma and I’ve been paid to write news for eight years. Us news-makers have to put a spin/slant/angle on any piece of information to turn it into a story.

Back to the trustworthiness of politicians: right now they’re telling us there is a building and construction skills shortage. I’ve checked: the politicians are telling the truth. On the Immediate Skills Shortage List right now are the following roles: Building inspector, building surveyor, construction project manager (Foreman), Surveyor / modeller, bricklayer, carpenter, joiner, plasterer, floor finisher, glazier, roof tiler, plasterer, scaffolder, stonemason: all badly needed.

Does this skills shortage have an effect on Northland? Conversely, do you get a great wage if you complete trades training?

Yeah, nah, yeah. According to the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action plan of 2016, Northland has the highest dependency ratio of any New Zealand region (lots of youngsters and lots of elderly.) This means a low proportion of working age people. Our region’s labour force participation rate is well below the New Zealand average. When the plan was written, the proportion of Northland’s young people not in education, employment or training was twice the national rate.
Lisa Owen grilled Construction Minister Jenny Salesa about the issue on The Nation a couple of months ago, beginning the interrogation by saying productivity has to increase for the government to hit its KiwiBuild targets and it’s estimated that just a 1% increase in productivity would increase national GDP by $139 million.

Salesa conceded the shortage in workers will shortly rise from 30,000 to 46,000 workers. Salesa told Lisa Owen various things to downplay worries about the number of immigration workers on what were until recently KiwiBuild Visas.

Salesa said NZ right now has just over 23,000 young people training as apprentices in polytechnics. The majority of NZ’s builders are small businesses employing around five people, and 90% of construction workers are found within those small businesses, which build about two to three houses per year, Salesa explained. Salesa reckoned prefabricated houses are the answer, estimating it takes one registered licensed builder and four skilled people to build a whole house within four to six weeks.
Aside from the fact she didn’t add on the time it takes to cover utilities and building/development consent, those numbers sound encouraging. More belief in prefabs should eventually counteract the labour shortage, right?

I don’t know why prefabs and polytechs aren’t meeting the need. We have several places offering trades training in Whangarei alone – plus we have companies building prefabs in every region, including Tai Tokerau.

What I find weird is this: the NZ employment barometer says building and construction roles have really high demand right now, but the pay begins at $17-$25 an hour. Maybe that’s too little money. Could the starting salary be the problem? Maybe minimum wage for those jobs on skills shortages should be raised to $25 or $30 an hour or even more. Wouldn’t a ‘skills shortage wage’ encourage more Kiwi high school graduates to step into these badly-needed roles? It’s not as if a wage injection would make houses more expensive. Increased competition for building jobs could lead to builders having to increase the speed at which houses are completed. Maybe quicker builds would result and maybe prices would even fall. We’re only after a 1% increase in productivity, aren’t we – and who wouldn’t want to work 1% harder in exchange for a 25% higher wage?

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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