Trends in resourcing and employment practice of Canterbury construction organisations

Alice Yan Chang-Richards, Suzanne Wilkinson, Erica Seville, David Brunsdon

Resilient  Organisations Research Report 2016/02, February 2016.

Executive Summary

Five years on since the first major earthquake struck the Canterbury region, the reconstruction is well advanced. Christchurch is a city in transition. This report considers trends in resourcing and employment practice of Canterbury construction organisations in response to the projected market changes (2015-2016). The report draws on the interviews with 18 personnel from 16 construction organisations and recovery agencies in October 2015. It provides a summary of perceived changes in the construction market in Canterbury, evidence of what steps construction businesses have been taking, how they have prepared for likely changes in the reconstruction sector, as well as the perceived alignment of public policies with the industry response.

The key findings are as follows:

  • There is a consensus among interviewed construction businesses that the Canterbury rebuild work, particularly the residential rebuild work and SCIRT’s horizontal infrastructure repair work, plateaued in 2014, started falling in 2015 and is expected to wrap up by end of 2016.
  • In anticipating the potential downward pressure in the residential and infrastructure rebuild sectors, subcontractors of different tiers had re-structured their businesses. Meanwhile building companies, especially small and new start-up businesses, have or are considering ‘downsizing’ staff.
  • There are still reported shortages in certain types of specialist trades, such as driveway contractors, scaffolders and tilers.
  • Improving efficiency is a key focus for most interviewed construction organisations, such as improving staff performance; reviewing business structures, improving supply chains and increasing their customer base.
  • Reflecting on current public policies, interviewed organisations commended current fixed term policy responses to alleviate labour force impacts of the disaster, including the dedicated one-stop Canterbury ‘Skills and Employment Hub’ and the New Zealand Apprenticeships, which they felt had been effective in assisting construction businesses to recover, retain staff and continue to operate in the rebuild sectors.
  • As the rebuild work proceeds at a slower pace, it is likely that further challenges will emerge in retaining the core skills and competences that have been developed during the rebuild in the region. The availability and affordability of housing, and career prospects in Christchurch, the retention strategies adopted by construction businesses, and coordination across the relevant agencies and sectors will have a strong influence on labour supply.
  • Industry structure-related factors, such as high turnover, youth employment, lack of knowledge transfer within the subcontractor and sector levels, and a lack of investment in training and skills development at a business level, are still prominent, and having an impact on workforce development strategies within construction organisations.
  • Certainty issues for workers in newly established organisations post-earthquake such as CERA, Fletcher EQR and SCIRT have emerged, including the transition of staff members with rebuild experience, continued demand for certain roles in the rebuild sectors, knowledge transfer and documentation for long-term reconstruction. All these issues, together with lessons learned from the set-up of those organisations and their institutional and functional arrangements, provide implications for the development of capacity and capability in managing large-scale urban rebuild and will influence the development of an effective workforce strategy in Canterbury for the long term.

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