Opposition leader Phil Goff has increased his calls for the government to take immediate action to ensure there is a big enough skilled trade workforce in New Zealand to deal with the Canterbury rebuild, an Auckland housing shortage and repairs to leaky homes.
Although Goff said yesterday he expected a nationwide trades skills shortage in six months' time, in a media release this morning that timing was pushed out to 12-18 months. However the message was the same - that the looming shortage would "cripple the rebuild effort, cause significant delays and push up the cost of construction".
The Labour Party leader has also this year spoken about his fears of an Auckland housing crisis due to low levels of building consents and migration of skilled New Zealand workers to Australia. See more in this February 15 article.
Goff today called for the government to increase its cap on building trades students at institutions like the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. Government should also promote accelerated, intensive courses in building and construction trade training, including apprenticeships.
“CPIT has the capacity to take on more students and increase trade training. We want to target school leavers, those who are unemployed and those who may be made redundant in the coming months – to give them an opportunity to forge a new career that will benefit them and the economy," Goff said in a media release on Wednesday morning.
“Immediate action is needed to meet the rapid growth in the Canterbury region when the rebuild gets underway. If this does not happen, there will be an avoidable crisis and delays in meeting housing needs along with higher costs which is the last thing people in Christchurch need as they recover from the earthquake,” Goff said.
"Industry leaders tell me that the pool of skilled labour has been shrinking throughout the country. The industry has been downsizing with layoffs increasing over the last couple of months. Even before the latest quake, it was estimated there would be a shortfall of a thousand building tradespeople by 2013. That demand will be even stronger now," he said.
Boosting the number of skilled workers was necessary not only for Canterbury but also to meet the growing housing shortage crisis in Auckland, the expected increased demand to repair leaky buildings and the loss of many qualified tradespeople lured to Australia by higher pay packets.
“This is a critical issue. It cannot be ignored. The Government must act now to build an army of workers with the right mix of skills to rebuild the devastated Canterbury region, including the tens of thousands of homes, schools and businesses that have been destroyed or damaged," Goff said.
“If action is not taken, we will face a skills shortage in 12-18 months’ time that will cripple the rebuild effort, cause significant delays and push up the cost of construction. The industry also must be given the confidence and certainty it needs to take on trainees and workers,” he said.
The Government should provide the building industry with clear projections about the scale of construction work that would be needed and the skills required.
“The Government must also ensure that Canterbury businesses get the first bite of any construction work that is going, as long as their bids are competitive. At present, the industry is retrenching and local companies are continuing to face liquidity problems because of the recession and delays in reconstruction after the September 4 earthquake," Goff said.
“It’s important that rebuilding starts as quickly as possible to keep them and the local economy afloat,” he said.
“Funds must also flow quickly from insurers and the Earthquake Commission to businesses that are undertaking the work. We don’t want businesses that are already under financial pressure to fail simply because they’re not being paid on time."