Duncan Garner: We need more builders! Start with those on the dole

24/03/2014

There’s no show without punch – so the saying goes. So, we’ll never build more houses without builders – right?

Here’s the problem: We desperately need chippies and thousands more of them.

Why? It’s pretty simple: the recession from 2007-2012 saw the numbers of builders and their apprentices drop. In fact, it collapsed.

In turn, the numbers of houses built reached new lows. Lots of developers went to the wall. The Government reacted, but slowly. It announced a new, super-charged, building apprenticeship funding scheme; two years after the Christchurch earthquake.

They took too long, but they did something. Despite a surge in new apprenticeships last year, the construction sector is still facing a major shortfall to cope with the new demand across the country.

Last year, 3,230 apprentice builders were in training, according to the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation. That’s up 55% on the year before, but the industry itself says it needs 5,000 more.

Auckland alone needs to build 13,000 houses a year and it’s struggling to keep up. It’s not on target despite all the hot air spouting from the Ngati-Whatua room at Mayoral HQ in Auckland. Statistics NZ figures shows they are building more houses in Canterbury than in any other region right now. And the rebuild is only 10% completed!

New Zealand needs to be ready for this mass building programme and we are not. We are not even close. It was a mistake to get rid of the apprenticeship schemes in the 1990s – it’s taken more than 20 years to recover from that decision and we're still catching up. So, what is the answer?

In Canterbury, they are bringing in foreigners to rebuild the city – which seems to me to be so sad given the youth unemployment issue in NZ. Stats NZ figures show 6,100 immigrants arrived in Canterbury last year – many to rebuild the city. They will stay for years. Many will set up base there, have families, all that jazz.

Put that into perspective with Wellington – the capital got just 400 new immigrants last year.

So here’s my thinking – it’s controversial – along the lines of the work for the dole scheme, but with much more purpose. We need to force unemployed young Kiwis into a trade. They should not be allowed to receive the dole if they aren’t prepared to rebuild this country.

While young kids rot in places like Flaxmere, Manurewa and Kaikohe, we have South Africans and Irishmen rebuilding our second largest city. It doesn’t feel right. Plus, it’s all paid for with $30bn of private insurance money.

The Christchurch rebuild is the biggest make-work scheme NZ will ever have – ever. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we should not let it pass us by. Arguably, given the size and scale of the Christchurch rebuild, we should have virtually zero percent unemployment – but we don’t.

Christchurch will be a 20 year rebuild; it may take even longer. Ministers will never admit it will take this long, but it will – they talk about it behind the scenes. So let’s get even more hands on.

It’s a crime to have Kiwi kids sitting on their backsides while the building industry is screaming out for workers. What’s next? Imported Chinese builders in Auckland – or maybe that’s happening already.

We can do better and we must. It’s staring at us in the face and whacking us in the nose. Let’s get on with it.

source: data archive