Skills shortage hampers rebuild

November 1, 2013

Engineers are on the most wanted species list when it comes to meeting Christchurch's needs. Christchurch residents have never seen so much steel and concrete construction in their lives.

Thousands of skilled people are needed for work on the roads, fresh water, wastewater, stormwater and other infrastructure such as bridges and retaining walls. Infrastructure repair work needs to be mostly complete before the above-ground rebuild can start. Once the rebuild goes vertical in a big way and construction starts on the anchor and major government-funded projects, there will be greater need for site managers, steel fixers and concreters.

The Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) says a changing of the guard is taking place in the Christchurch rebuild.

IPENZ Christchurch branch chairman Chris Maguire says several engineers flown in to complete design work after the 2011 earthquakes are returning to Wellington or Auckland because of growing demand there and new engineers are arriving in Christchurch to replace them.

He says dozens more structural and geo-technical engineers are needed for the vertical rebuild over the next one to two years.

IPENZ chief executive Andrew Cleland says some of the work in Christchurch is not able to be carried out as quickly as people would like because of the high volume of work and not enough engineers with the right competence for technically demanding work. Immigrant engineers have helped meet some of the demand but take time to get up to speed with local requirements for critical work.

The shortage of engineers is not confined to Christchurch though. There is a nationwide demand for engineering expertise. Engineering disciplines at Immigration New Zealand in the category of long-term skills' shortages include structural, civil, chemical, electrical and mechanical.

IPENZ says the shortage of engineers is the consequence of a long-term under-investment in engineering graduates. The percentage of total graduates who choose engineering is lower in New Zealand - 6 per cent - than any other country in the OECD, which averages 13 per cent.

Cleland says IPENZ has warned about this shortage for many years and is promoting the profession to the younger generation by encouraging the uptake of science and technology subjects in secondary schools.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website (Immigration) also flags a need for quantity surveyors and project managers, and some demand for tradesmen such as painters and carpenters.

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