There’s been a bit of a stir recently because New Zealand has launched a campaign to attract overseas workers to help with the Christchurch rebuild after the earthqake in February. As part of its pre-Election posturing, the Labour Party complains that those jobs should go to the thousands of unemployed New Zealanders. This is tied to a criticism that the Government has not done enough to help young people in particular to get training in the trades.
It may or may not be true that the Government has failed to invest in building up our skill base. That, however, is beside the point. There are some good reasons why the Government has to employ overseas workers to fill the need for the Canterbury rebuild.
The first is that it takes time to train people in trades like carpentry and plumbing. Even after young people are trained it takes even more time for them to become experienced. There is a huge amount of work to do, and it needs to be done as quickly as possible. Christchurch cannot afford to have an army of people “learning on the job” to put the city back together. It would be disastrous to put such a large workforce together who are more likely to make mistakes than experienced trades workers.
The second reason is that Kiwis who get qualified in trades or professions are still racing off to Australia in their droves. In October, New Zealand recorded its first net loss of migrants since 2001 – that is, the number of people leaving overall was greater than the number coming in. According to a recent article:
In October 2011 . . . [t]here was a net loss of 2,700 migrants to Australia, up from 1,900 in October 2010. The latest figure is the highest net loss recorded for an October month since 1988.
Even if the Government opens the doors to tens of thousands of new apprenticeships, we can guess where a lot of those people will go when they get their ticket.
On the other hand, people from Europe and other parts of the world who see New Zealand as a paradise are dead keen to come in and make a living. Many of them don’t seem to care if the pay is less than in Australia – or whatever it is that Kiwis believe is so good across the ditch. There is an inevitable “churn” going on in New Zealand society – citizens are leaving and migrants are coming to take their place. The New Zealanders who stay behind it may not like it, but at the moment it seems to be quite an inexorable force.