SEEK Employment Trends New Zealand: spotlight on Christchurch, Canterbury

It’s been just over five years since the devastating Christchurch earthquake and the city is now taking on a new form.

While the construction industry has played a key role in rebuilding the city to date, new data from the SEEK Employment Trends report shows demand within the industry declined in January 2016 compared to the same time last year, and growth appears to be focused in other sectors.

The US$26.5 billion Christchurch Rebuild movement, which the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority considers the largest economic undertaking in New Zealand's history, has fueled the city’s rebirth. Throughout 2014 and into early 2015, SEEK saw unprecedented demand for engineers, project managers and construction workers to support the rebuild. However, the latest employment data suggests a new landscape for 2016.

A shift in the construction industry

Job ads in the construction industry in Canterbury experienced a year-on-year decline of 19% in January 2016. Brien Keegan, New Zealand Country Manager of recruitment firm Randstad, says this may represent a shift in focus rather than a significant trend.

“While the demand has been in residential construction, that is starting to tail off,” he explains. “For the large part, much of the restoration has been done for the damaged houses and rebuilds are mostly complete. Now demand is more focused on the non-residential sector. I recently had a CEO of a building company say to me that if I could find 10-15 site managers he’d hire them tomorrow.”

Diverse opportunities

While the construction industry continues its essential role in rebuilding Christchurch, Janet Faulding, General Manager of SEEK New Zealand, says many Cantabrians may be surprised at how diverse their employment market appeared in the lead up to January 2016. “Over the past 24 months, the opportunities for work were largely dominated by the rebuild, so it is encouraging to see more industries feeling confident to take on employees,” she says.

Industries that showed positive signs of growth in the lead up to 2016 included consulting and strategy, which was up by 53% in the three months to December 2015, compared to the same time the year before. Call centre and customer service job ads increased by 30% during this period and demand in science and technology was up by 24%.

“In Canterbury, we have over 60 job ads for software developers and programmers, and more than 170 roles available in the IT industry,” adds Faulding. “As the city is rebuilding, we’re seeing an increase in service roles, such as IT, consulting, customer service and general management, which is more aligned to the trends we’re noticing in the Auckland labour market.”

Demand across the industries

The Canterbury region experienced a 229% year-on-year increase in the real estate and property sector in January 2016. While this figure appears high, this is a relatively small employment sector.

Demand in the insurance and superannuation sector increased by 50% compared to the same time last year. Keegan attributes the growth to the impact of the earthquake and the maturity of the superannuation industry. “It’s nowhere near as mature as it is in Australia, but our KiwiSaver has been around for a number of years now, so there’s a growth in funds under management.”

Industries experiencing a year-on-year drop in demand in January 2016 included marketing and communications, which fell by 12%. Demand in the healthcare and medical sector was also down by 20% compared to January last year. Hospitality and tourism also saw a 10% decline in job ads, despite a 5% increase in demand across the whole country.

Demand in banking and financial services in Canterbury also declined by 37%, however Keegan attributes this more to timing than to a sign of serious decline. “January may reflect this kind of decline because banks are usually only just getting into gear for the new year,” he says.

Salaries appear to be stabilising

Salaries across the Canterbury region have stabilised over the past four months. This has helped offset a small trend decrease in salaries in New Zealand’s largest labour markets of Wellington and Auckland.

While applications per job ad are increasing in trend terms in the Canterbury region, a sharp decline in recent months suggests the labour market is beginning to tighten. Average candidate availability in Canterbury suggests reasonable conditions for both job-seekers and employers.

Canterbury, and its centre of Christchurch, have an atmosphere of regeneration and renewal and this appears to be translating to the employment market, where new growth opportunities are emerging. Faulding sees further bright spots on the horizon. “There is certainly much more to Canterbury than earthquake-related construction,” she says.

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