New Zealand Faces Shortage of Workers for Infrastructure Projects

New Zealand needs more workers and higher productivity to deliver the major infrastructure projects that are planned, according to the Infrastructure Commission. There are 200,000 employed in construction and infrastructure currently and that needs to grow by 50,000 over the next few years, Commission Chief Executive Ross Copland told a parliamentary committee Wednesday in Wellington.
As well as the workers, New Zealand needs to lift productivity and improve project leadership, he said. “We have low productivity in our civil construction sector,” Copland said. “We have only achieved labor productivity growth of 5% over the last 20 years in civil construction, which is very low by international standards and even by New Zealand’s average labor productivity.” New Zealand has a pipeline of infrastructure projects worth nearly NZ$80 billion ($49 billion) but the challenge is to find workers and leaders to successfully deliver them. The damage to roads and railways caused by recent severe weather events in the North Island will add to the pressure in the near-term, particularly as many workers have been attracted by higher paying jobs in Australia or further abroad in the past year. “After lockdown finished some of the earliest arrivals into New Zealand were Australian recruiters,” Commission Chairman Alan Bollard told the committee.
Copland said the commission’s focus is on improving the capability of government agencies when they procure infrastructure, and on lifting standards of project leadership. He said major projects become large entities in their own right that require professional management, and the commission is mirroring efforts in Australia to develop leaders which in turn allows them to recruit the best staff, including from overseas.  More also needs to be done to remove planning hurdles, he added.“When you look at the planning system, there are some pretty strong indicators that we make it pretty hard to execute civil works projects in New Zealand,” he said.

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