Construction shortage list, unlikely to alleviate shortage

Jan 22, 2019 | News

The Government recently established the new Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List (CISSL) to address the ongoing problem of short supply of construction workers in New Zealand. But the new list scheme is likely to be too rigid to be effective, and will put off the very migrant workers it claims to encourage.

The CISSL came into effect December 2018. It’s intended to increase the available skill base of construction workers so the Government can make good on its construction and infrastructure commitments, including the KiwiBuild project. It replaces and cancels the Canterbury Skill Shortage List and absorbs various construction roles from the Immediate Skill Shortage List.

The main drawback of the list is that it is overly prescriptive, with unduly specific qualification requirements.

In the new scheme, employers recruiting migrant workers to positions on the list will no longer need to show they have advertised the role locally in order for a work visa to be issued if:

1. The duties of the job substantially match the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) description of the role

2. The visa applicant has the qualifications and/or experience as stated on the list for that occupation

3. The job is located in the region specified on the list.

For example, an employer looking to hire a stonemason will not have to advertise the role if the position description substantially matches INZ’s description for that job; the applicant has a qualification comparable to a New Zealand Level 4 qualification with a credit or knowledge requirement of the New Zealand Certificate in Capstone Masonry; and the job is in the Auckland region, the Upper North Island, or Canterbury.

However, if the role was in New Plymouth the employer would have to advertise the job locally before they could get a work visa for a new employee. And if the position was in Auckland but the visa applicant did not have the qualification, the employer would also have to advertise the role.

The qualification requirements add a new layer of messy complication to an already arduous visa assessment process. To obtain a visa, an applicant must now have an overseas qualification comparable to a New Zealand qualification. For example, a carpenter from overseas must show their qualification compares to a New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4). Equivalence will be determined by a New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) assessment of the overseas qualification. (The only exception is if the qualification is on an INZ list of those exempt from NZQA assessment.)

This NZQA assessment process will add time and cost to work visa applications. But it will provide a nice secondary income stream from the migration process directly to another government agency. In the old days this was known as “jobs for the boys”.

More frustratingly, the qualification requirements assume that overseas qualifications will have the same structure or content as New Zealand qualifications.

Take, for example, an employer who wants to hire a migrant to be a Site Foreman (Project Builder) in Canterbury. The visa applicant’s overseas qualification will need to be comparable to a New Zealand bachelor degree or a qualification that has the equivalent of 360 credits. Additionally, the qualification will have to have a major comparable to a New Zealand major in quantity survey in or construction economics.

How many New Zealand site foreman currently building in Canterbury have a bachelor degree with a major in quantity surveying or construction economics? And how many overseas qualifications in the building sector are going to be at bachelor level, with these specified majors?

If the Government was serious about addressing skill shortages in these particular sectors, the qualification requirement would reflect what matters most: the experience and ability of the applicant to perform the work. That is not measured by an academic qualification. Most employers in the sector are more concerned with the level of experience a candidate has and the competency that reflects.

In the occupations associated with the trades there is also a repeated emphasis on the applicant obtaining licensed building practitioner (LBP) status. Why would a migrant worker want to acquire LBP status and take on the personal liability under the Building Act for his or her employer’s projects?

Additionally, some positions on the list require that the applicant already has New Zealand experience. That seems curious. It indicates that for those roles the list cannot be used for first-time work visa applicants. Was the list intended to benefit only those renewing existing visas who are already working in a position on the list?

I believe the list’s overly specific qualification requirements are all about achieving a coalition-Government compromise. The list allows the Minister to appear to be doing something to address skill shortage issues but also panders to New Zealand First’s desire to limit immigration by introducing rules so restrictive many won’t be able to or won’t want to take advantage of it.

The list reeks of a solution developed by office workers with pointed leather shoes parked under a comfortable desk on a cold Wellington day. Perhaps if they had allowed those in hard hats and steel-capped safety boots to create the scheme it would identify in a more practical manner the skills (that is, the experience) employers need on the ground. Perhaps the result might not be so flaccid.

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