A New Zealand woman in her twenties was able to boost her salary by around $30,000 after moving to Australia.
Anne Gibson, editor of the NZ Herald, tells the Front Page podcast that this is just one of many stories she has heard about in recent weeks.
“Australian companies offer much higher wages, some cover moving costs, even going so far as to move the cat if you wish,” says Gibson.
“They also offer a better lifestyle and cheaper living, especially when it comes to houses.
“ANZ projected that 20,000 Kiwis would leave in a year for Australia and other parts of the world. This is very worrying.”
Another factor attracting young people across the divide is the quality of entertainment on offer.
“I have friends who have just moved to Queensland. They are younger people and they have started to notice that Auckland has really declined in terms of entertainment,” says Gibson.
With the impact of Covid and the loss of tourists, the options available in terms of bars, restaurants and live entertainment have been austere over the past couple of years.
Australia certainly hasn’t avoided the impact, but Kiwis going overseas can experience it all again rather than waiting for the industry to recover here.
“Where they are now they have the Gold Coast on their doorstep, they have been to the zoo before, they like the warmer climate and they love having a Costco there. people their 20s happier.
“It’s about bigger, better and different things. They love living there right now. It’s not something I would consider doing right now, but I can understand people at a different stage of life do that.”
Beyond improved entertainment options and the prospect of home ownership, the young couple also received a big boost in income.
“[One of them] earns about $30,000 more,” Gibson says.
“In your twenties, that’s quite significant. I mean, that’s about half the average salary in New Zealand, so that’s a major decoy.”
The prospect of this big recruitment threat from Australia comes at a time when there is a significant skills shortage in the construction industry in New Zealand.
Gibson reports have shown that there is currently a shortage of more than 200,000 people in the infrastructure sector in New Zealand.
“I went to the Waihanga Ara Rua (Construction and Infrastructure) Workforce Development Council, and they cited a study by Infometrics, which looked at the entire infrastructure sector, including the electricity, telecommunications and vertical construction.”
These staggering numbers pose a huge challenge because of how integral construction is to the wider economy.
“Construction is New Zealand’s fourth biggest employer, so it’s a huge economic driver. With a record 48,000 consents a year, we’ve never built so many houses. But it’s not just houses. It’s also business infrastructure, like roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and universities. It’s really worrying that we don’t have enough staff to do all those things.
A ripple effect of construction delays is that it can also prevent other businesses from growing as quickly as they can. Having to wait long periods of time for projects to be completed means everything takes a bit longer to happen.
Gibson adds that the labor shortage is also putting additional pressure on an already vulnerable workforce from a mental health perspective.
“I’ve spoken to a few young people in their twenties and the pressure on them is immense. They go to work at weekends and often have long Saturdays. So much for the 40-hour week.
“They’re just under a lot of pressure. It’s happening because the companies they work for are also under a lot of pressure to do that job.”
This comes from an industry that has long struggled with the impact of suicide among members of the workforce.
A study conducted between 2007 and 2017 found that 300 construction workers died by suicide, with work-related factors cited as contributory in almost a third of cases.
“A few years ago there was an organization called Mates in Construction, which aims to get people to open up and talk. The latest numbers from [this organisation] are even worse, that is, one person dies a week. It is a total tragedy.
“The increased stress, contracts, tight deadlines, uncertainty, weekend work and…remember these places are very dangerous.”
The pressure on workers in the construction industry is not expected to ease any time soon. Economists expect the jobless rate to fall to a new record high of around 3% when labor market data is released later this week.
Add to that the continued appeal of Australia and other international destinations and it suggests New Zealand’s labor crisis will soon be over.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.