Kā Taero me kā Āheitaka kai mua i Tō Tātau Rohe | Challenges and Opportunities for Our Region

Murihiku is an attractive and vibrant place for people to live, work and play. This, combined with the fact that we are living in a time of unprecedented change, means we have the chance to shape and drive several significant opportunities for our region. Those opportunities stem from the Just Transition programme, long term planning processes, the emergence of new industries, and a collective desire by key stakeholders to work together.

However, to realise these opportunities, we need to address the challenges we are facing in a complex socio-economic environment.

The 2022 Regional Workforce Plan (RWP) clearly articulated the need for our region to be resilient in the face of challenges affecting our regional, national and global economy. We acknowledged the ongoing impact of a pandemic on our current and future workforce, and our ability to adapt to the challenges that environment brings. We also noted uncertainty around the continued operation of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Tiwai Point (NZAS Tiwai Point).

While we operate in a continually evolving world, the impacts of uncertainty have compounded. The subsequent challenges from a skills and workforce perspective are complex and interrelated:

  • NZAS Tiwai Point – at the time of writing, a decision on the smelter’s future past 2024 has not been confirmed. The RSLG continue to gain insights regarding potential support for NZAS Tiwai Point workforce transition planning. This includes understanding the skills available for redeployment, potential ramifications surrounding lack of transferability, and the overall focus on access to decent work for all workers and contractors.
  • Te Pūkenga SIT Contributions to Murihiku – a recent BERL (Business and Economic Research Limited) study commissioned by Te Pūkenga SIT found Te Pūkenga SIT contributes about $157.1 million to the region’s economy annually, equating to $508.5 million in GDP from 2018 to 2022. Zero Fees is a contributing factor to these economic benefits as a key driver for student enrolment. The study found 40% of Te Pūkenga SIT graduates are employed by local businesses on completion of study, representing a significant pool of labour for the region. While the scheme remains in place until the end of 2023, loss of the scheme could result in considerable reduction in enrolments, and therefore a reduction in the availability of a skilled workforce across the region.
  • Health Care Provision – a lack of skilled, specialist staff across the sector (including for example in dental and GP clinics, hospitals, and allied health provision) is adding pressure to existing staff and ongoing service delivery. The Health System in New Zealand is undergoing massive transformation. This has created uncertainty around the future of health care provision – particularly regarding how the disestablishment of DHBs has impacted staff.
  • Wellbeing of the Workforce – health, social support, and aged residential care services and staff are over-stretched and at increased risk of burnout. This is similar for those in tourism and hospitality, where long working hours required by existing staff to cover ongoing labour shortages exacerbates existing strains. Capability to meet increased demand is diminishing.
  • Community Vulnerabilities – disparities in health service distribution have a disproportionate impact on the rural population. The inability to enrol with a GP is a deterrent for people wanting to relocate and/or stay in the region. Attraction and retention issues can be more significant in communities that have a greater reliance on a major industry subject to seasonality (i.e., tourism in Te Anau). These communities are more vulnerable to economic shock and fluctuations in workforce availability.
  • Border and Immigration Changes – Covid-19 border restrictions have eased, bringing some relief to the workforce, but we are now faced with the challenge of losing staff to overseas opportunities again. Changes to the Immigration NZ Green List have added additional Health Care related roles, which has both positive and negative impacts for the sector (greater number of potential staff, but exemptions from median wage for health care assistants may mean that staff are not as highly paid as they should be).
  • Cultural Disparity – there is significant underrepresentation of Māori and Pacifica in the health care work force, which needs to be addressed against the needs of our aging demographic. Attraction and retention are a key piece to support the needs of Māori and Pacifica workforce, where negative perceptions of workplace environments are of particular concern. The needs and aspirations of rakatahi must be valued when considering the growing number of rakatahi Māori and Pacifica youth in New Zealand who will make up a greater proportion of our future workforce.
  • Attraction and Retention – attracting staff is an ongoing challenge across the region, particularly rurally. Employers are struggling to retain existing staff (a greater challenge now borders are open) or find new employees in what is a very tight labour market (unemployment in Murihiku was 3.3% at March 2023)[2]. Industry perceptions and expectations are often the biggest barrier to rakatahi choosing to enter certain roles. Housing shortages present an additional challenge for the labour market and is a key challenge for attracting people to the region. However, the housing situation in Murihiku is a key consideration for the Beyond 2025 Southland Regional Plan.
  • Education and Qualifications – attainment timeframes mean there is no short-term fix to fill vacancies for medium to highly skilled roles without attracting staff from other regions, or overseas.
  • Access to Regional Statistics and Data – due to Murihiku’s population size, boundary differences in statistical data sets, and frequent grouping of Murihiku with Otago, access to regionally specific statistics can be challenging and limits our ability to provide evidence-informed insights to the region. The RSLG recognise the importance of regional statistics to make regional decisions, particularly where statistics can be used as evidence at a national level to inform policy decisions. The RSLG also supports the prioritisation of data as one of five key enablers in the Beyond 2025 Long Term Plan, including investigation into Data Southland (regional data repository).

The constantly evolving nature of our economy puts an even greater emphasis on our need to be agile in responding to changing workforce and skills needs within an uncertain socio-economic environment.

What is certain is that we need to recognise and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Our refocused actions have been developed through the lens of our foundation aspirations to identify measures we can take as an RSLG to help overcome the challenges we face as a region.

Our inaugural RWP focused on our current labour market needs, while acknowledging that new opportunities could be on the horizon. These sectors offer significant opportunities for our region. The availability of a skilled workforce is imperative to our ability to realise those opportunities.

In this update of the RWP we have chosen to spotlight the needs of Aquaculture, Renewable Energy (Hydrogen) and Construction, as evolving and emerging sectors vital to the future of our region. The next section considers these sectors in more detail and introduces steps that can be taken by the region to support their labour market needs.