Ngā Āhua Apū ki Waitaha | Canterbury labour market conditions

The Canterbury labour market in 2023 is tight and there are pressures on both the demand and supply of labour and skills.

 We have near record percentages of working age people employed, but there are groups who could still be experiencing better outcomes in the labour market. We also have an ageing population which will only continue to have an impact on worker and skills shortages – a challenge experienced globally.

Labour shortages are intense in all OECD countries, but New Zealand stands out for the intensity of our shortages. This issue will lead to greater competition for global talent.

Considering this highly competitive labour market environment, it is important that Canterbury looks at all levers available to meet the expected challenges. While the 2022 RWP and 2023 update focus on specific ‘spotlight’ sectors and demographics and training, education and innovation as a means to achieve this, it is crucial for immigration settings to work in conjunction with these efforts.

Immigration settings

We consider immigration settings as a key issue currently influencing the Canterbury labour market. COVID-19 and the impact of changing immigration settings has highlighted the region’s requirement for skilled migrants to meet labour demands, and increased the vulnerabilities of many industries when border settings constrain this. We continue to discuss this issue regularly, having heard these concerns consistently from across the region.

Access to overseas talent has been a key part of Canterbury’s success over the last decade, with 50,000 visas in the 2010s helping the region meet immediate business needs. With recent changes to the skilled migrant visa system, there are concerns that new pay-rate-based immigration settings might disadvantage areas like Canterbury that have a lower median wage than the overall national average.

A responsive system

The Canterbury RSLG supports having an immigration system that takes a needs-based approach where training and migration are part of the same conversation. Targeted and regionally informed immigration can promote higher productivity in regional and rural areas of New Zealand and support growth, economic performance and resilience in those areas.

In Canterbury, immigration plays a critical role in filling skills shortages. The current labour constraints have demonstrated the importance of having access to a migrant workforce. The limitations have contributed to widespread labour shortages causing burnout, mental health concerns, overall workforce retention issues and adverse economic performance outcomes in some areas. There has been loss of productivity because work has physically been unable to be completed, and more time is being spent trying to recruit and onboard new staff in a very challenging environment.

We believe there is a potential role for all RSLG’s across New Zealand to provide strategic regional advice that Immigration New Zealand would have to consider when making decisions. This vehicle would help the system be more responsive to the different and unique labour market needs across the motu. Critical to the successful implementation of this structured advice is the knowledge that this will be used. Mechanisms need to be created to ensure that the advice is taken into consideration when Immigration New Zealand are making decisions.

Coordination and alignment

Regional Skills Leadership Groups are also supported by the Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) in the resolution, and if necessary, escalation, of system barriers through their government mandate to convene public service agencies. The role of the RPSC is to strengthen regional system leadership by working to coordinate and align central government decision makers.  They are focused on the planning and delivery of wellbeing outcomes in the region across social, economic, skills and workforce, and environmental sectors. The RPSC also works with local government, iwi, Māori organisations, NGOs and regional stakeholders when system barriers are identified through RSLG to support the vision for Canterbury becoming a connected, coordinated labour market where everyone is enabled to thrive.

We will continue to work with all our partners in this space to provide clear information and insights to enable businesses to grow, develop and create a more productive and resilient Canterbury labour market.