A study has found that Canterbury will need 10,000 new workers per year to curb the region’s labour shortage following the pandemic.
The study, led by Lincoln University researcher Dr David Dyason, assessed Canterbury’s labour market response to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing border closures implemented by New Zealand.
The paper states that border restrictions that were put in place in March 2020 significantly impacted Canterbury’s workforce and population growth, despite being effective in limiting the spread of Covid-19.
New Zealand’s 2018 consensus showed that between 2013 and 2018, more than 42,000 international migrants settled in Canterbury, compared to only 3,288 New Zealanders who arrived from other regions.
This trend continued in data by Statistics New Zealand, which showed that 80 per cent of Canterbury’s population growth between 2018 and 2020 was primarily driven by immigrants arriving from overseas and settling in the region.
However, border closures have created a workforce gap between members of the local labour pool – who are either retiring or leaving – and new skilled migrants who are arriving in Canterbury.
This workforce gap is expected to increase annually, and the initial void will need at least 10,000 new working-age skilled migrants arriving in Canterbury every year to be curbed.
Speaking on the study’s findings, Dr Dyason said that for a region such as Canterbury, which has historically relied on skilled migration, the border closures and impact of the pandemic could be disastrous in the long run.
He also said that natural population growth would not be sufficient to curb the increased labour shortage in the region, at least over the medium term.
Moreover, the local working-age population of Canterbury will not be enough to plug the gap, as no economy can ever have a 100 per cent employment rate due to reasons such as seasonal unemployment and lack of skills or vacancies, Dr Dyason added.
Canterbury’s current labour market capacity is shrinking, which is increasing the pressure on the federal government to relax border restrictions and resume skilled migration at full capacity.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, the federal government swiftly implemented lockdowns and border closures to international arrivals that substantially lowered New Zealand’s skilled migrant intake.
Moreover, offices had to either remain closed or could not function at full capacity during the lockdowns, resulting in prolonged processing times.
As a result, processing and approval of immigration applications were severely hindered, and thousands of additional applications were left unprocessed by Immigration New Zealand, which piled up the backlog of pending applications.
This resulted in a widespread negative impact on the local workforce and population growth in regions such as Canterbury, where migration played a prominent role in the recovery of population growth following the 2011 earthquakes.