Paying more – but still struggling

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Jobs aplenty: Tradestaff Queenstown boss Derek Hibberd

Resort bosses are in a full-blown slugfest for staff as the housing crunch continues to bite.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce’s biennial labour and accommodation survey reveals a quarter of businesses expect to pay 50 per cent above the going-rate.

And a whopping two-thirds will at the very least pay more than standard industry rates to attract and retain staff this year.

That’s because the vast majority of businesses – especially in hospo, admin and construction – had labour or skills shortages in the previous 12 months.

Tradestaff Queenstown branch boss Derek Hibberd is at the coalface.

“We’ve got work well and truly over our eyeballs.

“I’ve had to push out requests by a dozen clients for a couple of days because 100 per cent of our staff are out working.

“We need more and more and more. But then when you find them they’ll leave because they can’t find decent accommodation.”

Skilled labourers are being offered $25-$30 an hour.

“People are doing their best to keep the ones they’ve got,” Hibberd says.

“There’s fierce competition for skilled workers and that’s pushing pay rates up and up.”

Perky’s Floating Bar And Coffee Shop owner Max Perkins says he’s faced the same struggles.

He offered $23 an hour for a bar manager position, which he managed to fill.

“Then after six weeks they were like ‘I’ve got a better job, I’m moving on’,” Perkins says.

“That’s very much the way in Queenstown.”

Perkins says he’s since found someone else for the position and also a part-time manager.

“Offering that rate at least enables them to have more options when it comes to accommodation and it means I get the best staff.

“Yes it’s expensive, but it’s money well spent.”

The Chamber survey – conducted by Massey University, which talked to 243 bosses – says the major barrier to hiring staff is a lack of affordable and suitable accommodation.

Half of the 316 advertised positions at the time of the survey were unfilled for that reason.

Nearly a third of businesses are offering staff support with accommodation – up 11 percentage points from the 2015 survey.

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult – whose council is advertising eight jobs – says solutions are on the way.

He points to developer New Ground Capital’s planned 600-worker accommodation project in Frankton and the government’s recently-announced extension of its Crown Land Programme to Queenstown.

That might lead to 450 homes being built on the existing Wakatipu High site, after the school moves to Frankton.

The Mayoral Housing Taskforce is also thrashing out affordable housing solutions, including land-lease schemes.

Boult: “We can catch up – we’re coming from a long way behind, though.

“Basically the issue has been ignored on the basis it’ll fix itself.

“Well it’s not going to fix itself.

“We’ve got to do something about it but it’s a big oil tanker and it’s taking a long time to turn around.”

Nearly three-quarters of the district’s businesses experienced labour or skill shortages in this year’s sample.

But that’s an improvement of 15 percentage points on 2015 figures.

Immigration NZ issues don’t appear to be as much of a concern to employers as they were two years ago, just housing.

Chamber boss Ann Lockhart did not respond to Mountain Scene’s request for comment before deadline.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz