5 July 2024

Booming Southland needs to find 2800 skilled workers

Hot on the heels of Southland’s newfound status as the strongest growing region in the country for the first part of the year comes a double-barrelled challenge – to find and house 2800 additional skilled workers in the next five years.

The ASB Bank regional economic scoreboard for the first quarter showed Southland leaping from 10th to first of the 16 regions.

The ratings are based on 11 measures including employment, construction, retail trade and house prices.

The bank has highlighted Southland’s booming construction and housing sector, defying the national trend of construction slowdown, as a factor impelling the region’s spectacular rise.

However, it will need more than 2800 additional skilled workers to meet the projected surge in demand from a $3.9 billion pipeline of work, according to Waihanga Ara Rau, the Workforce Development Council for Construction and Infrastructure.

This work includes the $687 million remediation of Tiwai Point, a new wind farm at Kaiwera Downs, and the T4 Group Data Centre in Invercargill.

Some 5041 new homes will need to be built to accommodate a projected 13,100 new Southland residents by 2029.

Waihanga Ara Rau chief executive Philip Aldridge said getting more locally trained workers will be essential to sustain Southland’s growth.

“Southland’s five-year construction pipeline is growing, bucking the national slowdown since December 2022. However, this growth is at risk if the skills shortage isn’t overcome through a team effort from the government, employers, and training providers,” Aldridge said.

“For young people in Southland, there will be well-paid work available for those who choose to enter the construction industry,.

“It’s a chance to secure a stable career and be part of the region’s development.’’

Invercargill Deputy Mayor Tom Campbell said the issue had been well recognised by Southland’s four councils since 2015 when they approved the combined strategic plan, the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS), to increase the region’s population by 10,000 within ten years.

Campbell, who headed the SoRDS initiative, said the key challenges at that time had been to make central city Invercargill a more vibrant place, and to strengthen and diversify Southland’s economy.

“A lot of that work has been done or is well underway and the population has been growing – by 8000 since 2015,” he said.

The most critical issue had become less about how to attract people, and more about where they were going to live.

“It’s not only about the number of homes but actually about the type of houses or apartments, and their building cost.’’

He said the success of the SoRDS approach to work together as a region was now being repeated by a project based in Great South to develop a regional strategic plan for housing.

“Housing growth is a big challenge but since it is the result of strong economic growth, it’s actually not a bad one to have, “ Campbell said.

Great South strategic projects general manager Steve Canny said the strong pipeline showed Southland was front footing the 21st century challenges of changing export markets, climate change, energy, and developing new opportunities in lightweight exports such as the space and data industries.

Its own Beyond 2025 long-term plan for Southland echoed the findings of Waihangi Ara Rau.

“We recognise a skilled workforce is essential to supporting our new and existing businesses as well as the new construction, technology, and housing development needs,’’ Canny said.

A skilled, efficient and well-paid workforce was fundamental to achieving the region’s stated goals of “even better lives through a sustainable future’’, he said.

“Young people are our most valuable human capital. Connecting them to employers (starting) from age 14 onwards and working with iwi, schools, industry training organisations [and] tertiary institutions to achieve their career aspirations is essential,” Canny said.


Source: The Southland Times –  5 July 2024

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