Warren Blunden and his children Tyrell and Skyler are looking forward to coming to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
South African plumber Warren Blunden was on the cusp of starting a new life with his family in New Zealand – he was so close he could almost taste it.
Blunden flew to New Zealand
in 2019 and accepted a job at Tauranga Hardware and Plumbing. He registered his plumbing license, rented a home and bought tools and a new ute.
He then returned to South Africa and sold his business in December. In February 2020, he sold the family home and shipped a container with all their household goods to Tauranga in preparation for his start with Tauranga Hardware and Plumbing.
Then it all came crashing down.
Covid 19 began spreading around the globe and borders – including New Zealand’s – closed.
Blunden and his family were without a home, without their possessions, without an income and had no clear indication of when they would be able to start a new life in New Zealand.
“We were days away from flying into the country but unfortunately, we were too late,” he said.
The couple then had to re-apply for visas.
”The feeling of selling our business, home and living without our household goods was extremely stressful. Then the 2.5 years trying to make ends meet while spending our hard-earned savings didn’t make things any easier.”
The family has been living out of suitcases at his wife Lisa’s parent’s house in Johannesburg since 2020.
The 35-year-old told NZME he couldn’t wait to touch down in Tauranga.
”We decided on Tauranga as it feels a lot like home with added bonuses of beautiful views, clean streets, lots of outdoor recreational activities and the feeling of freedom. We are excited to be able to go for walks and feel safe and secure.
“We are also extremely excited to be able to bring our kids up in a country which has a positive future for them.”
The situation had been tough and he wanted to thank his Tauranga employer for all their efforts alongside others who had supported them throughout the journey.
He held no animosity towards Immigration NZ but said he was ”grateful for the opportunity”.
Employers say it’s an ongoing battle to find workers like Blunden, made worse by the border closures during the pandemic, and there was now a ”mass exodus” of tradies going overseas and immigration ”did not go far enough” to make up for the shortfall.
However, Minister for Immigration Michael Wood said it had simplified the settings and streamlined application processes for businesses to make it easier for employers to hire and attract migrants for specified high-skilled, hard-to-fill occupations.
Seek data reveals its job listings had jumped by 32 per cent from August 2021 to last month in the Bay of Plenty. Nationally in the three months to August, the average salary for trades and services increased by 3.6 per cent to an average salary of $71,000 while
construction climbed 3 per cent to an average salary of $110,000.
Seek NZ country manager Rob Clark said trades and services had been greatly impacted by the pandemic and the migratory workforce.
“Without these workers there simply isn’t enough local talent to fill all of the roles.”
Tauranga Hardware and Plumbing managing director Craig McCord said it had been a long battle to get Blunden into the country despite the company being immigration accredited.
”We are so happy he is coming. His family cried tears of joy.”
McCord said as part of the immigration conditions, it had advertised nationally for plumbers for two and a half years and did not get a reply.
”It was a waste of money. The biggest thing at the moment is manpower and we really need to get a pipeline of labor into the country.”
There was also a ”mass exodus” of young tradespeople going overseas on their OE and to Australia.
”We are losing more traditions and that is right across the board. We gain one and lose two.”
McCord said it still had three vacancies to fill.
Sarah Jamieson from BOP Plumbing & Gas said it has had an advertisement running continuously for more than 12 months.
It had managed to recruit a couple of qualified/nearly qualified tradies, but these were few and far between, she said. At the moment the company was still looking for a plumber, gasfitter or drainlayer.
”It is definitely not your standard recruitment process where you receive applicants, shortlist, interview and then select the best candidate. You literally hire what comes through the door before someone else does and assess them as quickly as you can in the 90 days you have available.”
Plumbing was on the skills shortlist but gasfitting was not and there was a major shortage in qualified and experienced gasfitters.
”It is still not easy to recruit from overseas as you need them to have had their qualifications assessed by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board in order to know what license they will get once they get out here.”
Foley’s north regional manager Wayne Fahey said in most regions throughout the country there was a labor shortage.
”Our industry has high standards in regard to who is permitted to do plumbing, gas fitting, and drainlaying in NZ, and overseas trained staff have to be assessed against these high NZ standards.
”This is necessary, but it is an additional complicating factor when it comes to hiring staff not trained in NZ or Australia.
”The difficulty finding skilled staff to fill the vacant positions we have, creates challenges in terms of scheduling and being able to maintain the high level of service we pride ourselves on being able to provide our customers.”
Bay Electric owner Dickie Burns said he had been looking for an electrician or an apprentice for six months.
He had advertised online about 30 days ago, but a lot of the applicants weren’t suitable.
”They are unskilled or people from other trades wanting to trade, trades. I’ve only had a couple of qualified guys really but I haven’t finalized anything yet.
“I think all the good guys have been snapped up by other companies.”
AJs Electrical Services manager Bruce Jeffries said in the last 18 months the business had experienced solid growth.
He put that down to word of mouth, doing a good job and diversifying into heat pumps, solar and electric vehicle chargers, new housing and service work.
At the moment they had vacancies in their solar division and their general electrical division.
”We’re very targeted at getting the right people to come on board. We work really hard to make our staff happy.
“Some of them have been here a really long time and we put that down to the team values of the business.”
Master Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers NZ chief executive Greg Wallace said it was in catch-up mode despite the slowdown in residential buildings.
They received renovations, repairs and maintenance and the commercial construction was strong.
”I checked with Plumbing World and Mico last week who are our key suppliers and their budget has increased by 10 per cent year on year. They’re still on budget and that is really good evidence sales are still strong at the moment.”
The biggest challenge was still the skilled labor shortage and in his view, immigration was nowhere near where it should be.
”We are competing on a worldwide market and the wages you can earn in Australia and overseas are much higher. They [government] put plumbers on the green list but they didn’t put gasfitters or drainlayers.”
”You can count on one hand how many people are coming into our sector because it’s really hard to get accreditation.”
Master Builders chief operating officer Chris Chainey said some of its builders work across both new builds and renovations and he knew renovation work was strong.
“We encourage our members to consider diversification where practical. But it’s not the answer for everyone, as many companies specialize in only building houses, and not renovations, so it is dependent on the skill mix of individual businesses.”
“Building the skills that New Zealand needs”
Minister Wood said it had simplified the settings and streamlined application processes for businesses while ensuring wages and working conditions were improved for everyone.
The new streamlined Accredited Employer Work Visa made it easier for employers to hire and attract migrants for specified high-skilled, hard-to-fill occupations, offering eligible workers a guaranteed faster and simplified pathway to residency.
”A key feature of the rebalance is a focus on building the skills that New Zealand needs, as opposed to the old system which had a focus on large volumes of low-wage labor in some sectors.
“Immigration alone cannot solve labor shortages and wider structural change and workforce transition are the key mechanisms for addressing systemic shortages.”
Housing, Building and Construction Minister Megan Woods said she was aware of the significant low-skill labor shortages throughout the industry, similar to what was happening in other countries such as Australia.
”We have developed a construction sector agreement to give migrant workers a pathway to fill lower-skilled and lower-paid roles. This will enable the sector to continue to deliver the homes, buildings and infrastructure New Zealand needs in the short term.”
Immigration by the numbers
* As of September 12, INZ has received 11,008 employer accreditation applications since applications opened on May 23. 10,251 applications have been approved.
* Job Check applications opened on June 20, as of September 12, INZ has received 8,274 applications, equating to 53,627 jobs. Of those, 7,045 Job Check applications have been approved, equating to 46,578 jobs.
* Since work visa applications opened on July 4, 6,397 visa applications have been received from migrants, 2,551 have been approved.