Faster process for overseas construction workers a timely move

18 July 2018

5. Kirk Hope

A faster way of hiring overseas construction workers is a welcome, timely and pragmatic decision.

The Government is consulting on a plan to allow construction companies to use a streamlined process for importing workers from overseas if they find that no New Zealand workers are available.

Proposed changes to immigration settings include a KiwiBuild Skills Shortages list, which would set up a simplified process for employers to quickly hire overseas workers in critical roles without the need for Immigration NZ to conduct a market test each time.

Companies would be able to get pre-approval to employ overseas workers as long as they could meet standards indicating they were good employers.

A short-term solution is critically needed for the building skills shortage, with an acute need now for boots on the ground and on the building site.

And the Skills Shortage List, similar to that used for the Canterbury rebuild, could be in place as soon as Christmas.

Construction, a key industry for the delivery of the Government’s priorities, currently does not have the skilled workforce – estimated to be 30,000 workers short - needed to build at pace and scale.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says the shortage of skilled workers is holding up the rapid progress that the Government needs to make in building houses, transport links and other infrastructure.

This includes the Government's plan to build 100,000 affordable houses, and a $28 billion transport package for Auckland.

BusinessNZ supports Building and Construction Industry Training Association Chief Executive Warwick Quinn’s opinion that the plan provides some balance between turning the immigration tap off and relying on immigration as a primary skills pathway.

As part of the newly announced plan, the Government is also proposing to restore the Skill Leadership Role of the Industry Training Organisation. This should clearly specify responsibilities and accountabilities for addressing industry skills and capability needs.

The former plan of a KiwiBuild visa would have included a requirement that a Kiwi be trained for every foreigner hired. Under the new proposal, all Government-backed building projects will have a requirement for some education or training of Kiwi workers by the builders.

And other initiatives include leveraging government procurement to promote more training, along with programmes such as Skills for Industry and Dole for Apprenticeships. It will be important that these initiatives focus on employers’ and employees’ actual needs.

The real challenge, however, is to better position our skills and training system so that it is agile enough to respond to changes in skills demand today and in the future.

The Minister says that the proposals are a temporary measure only. Any changes would be time limited so that the sector doesn't become permanently dependent on migrant workers, but does allow time to train up Kiwis.

The Government wants a sustainable construction workforce to provide opportunities for New Zealanders to train and work in the sector, he says, but acknowledges that cannot happen overnight.

Longer term, it is imperative that we grow more trades and construction skills, and current work in the skills and training sector is focused on that growth.

The streamlined, pre-approval model and KiwiBuild-type skills shortage list should be available for all sectors, not just construction, and should be used in regions with specific skill shortages.

However to make the immigration process more responsive, it should also be made easier to get occupations onto Immigration NZ’s skill shortage list for all regions, firms and industries.

The Otago Southland Employers’ Association and BusinessNZ are keen to work with the Government to address current and future skill needs.

 

Kirk Hope | Chief Executive | BusinessNZ | www.businessnz.org.nz

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