Canterbury re-build and NZ immigration skill shortage

Wanted: Bright things with a love of coffee

Christchurch cafe and restaurant owners desperate for staff want hospitality workers added to a list of skills urgently needed to get the city back on its feet.

Cafe, bar and restaurant owners fear a “lost generation” of young people have left the city, leaving many establishments struggling to attract staff.

It has been estimated that between 15,000 and 30,000 workers across all sectors could be needed in Christchurch to tackle the peak recovery phase, above the number of workers that were in the city before the rebuild started.

Immigration New Zealand holds a Canterbury skills shortage list to target temporary migrant workers that so far have come mainly from Britain, Ireland and the Philippines.

Initially most of the listed shortages were management positions in the construction and engineering sectors, but now trades including plasterers, roof and floor tilers are among a dozen recent additions. However, the hospitality sector says it, too, is facing a critical shortage of workers.

More than 543 cafes, restaurants and bars are now open in the city – half that open before the quakes, according to research by University of Canterbury senior marketing lecturer Sussie Morrish. The research found 22 per cent of the restaurants were in the central city, while 24 per cent were in the western suburbs, especially Riccarton and surrounding areas.

But many quake-damaged restaurants have been reopening in the central city in time for the busy summer season. The Dux Dine has opened in Riccarton Rd, Cafe Valentino has reopened in St Asaph St, Strawberry Fare is doing a booming trade at the Carlton Mill corner, Pedro’s is operating from a mobile cart, and Costas Taverna, the Greek restaurant formerly in Victoria St, is back at new premises in Cranford St.

Michael Turner, owner of Cafe Valentino, which has moved from Colombo St to St Asaph St as a result of the quakes, said Christchurch lost a generation of hospitality workers after the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

Before the quake, the business had employed 32 staff, but within a fortnight all but five left the city.

In the new location he had attracted about 22 staff, but the process had been difficult, Turner said.

One potential worker had wanted to come to Christchurch from Tauranga but had not been able to find accommodation.

“When all your staff have gone, there’s no-one left to train [new staff], and customers walk in and expect exactly the same experience as they did before February 2011.”

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said it was on her “to-do list” to ask Immigration New Zealand about the skills shortage for hospitality in Canterbury.

“What we’ve heard from the industry is that the Canterbury region is definitely struggling to find key skilled hospitality workers to fill those roles.”

It would be essential to find extra workers as the big hotels reopened. On a positive note, a large number of cafe and restaurant businesses had or were re-establishing themselves after the earthquakes.

“There are still those trying to find the right site or waiting for insurance and bits and pieces to come through, but many of our members are starting to reopen.”

Visa services southern regional manager Mike Christie said the skills shortage list would be reviewed again in February and then quarterly so it could respond to changing needs.

Immigration New Zealand wanted to put occupations on the list about three months before any foreseen demand for jobs to make it easier for employers to source workers.

Having the occupations on the list would speed up the immigration process by about two weeks, Christie said. The department was open for suggestion about where shortages might occur.

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