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Despite business confidence in North Canterbury being at a five-year low, businesses are employing more staff, have mostly increased sales and output, and say they intend to increase their investments in the region.
The findings were released this week in the October Business Opinion Survey, conducted by Enterprise North Canterbury and Research First.
The survey shows that business confidence in the region has been on the decline since last year. Currently, only 14% of surveyed businesses expect the business situation to improve in the next six months, with 50% expecting no change.
Despite this, over half of surveyed businesses reported an increase in sales and output in the past six months, and over one third of businesses reported increased employment levels. Almost half of respondents reported the same numbers of staff, with just 14% recording a decrease. Looking ahead, nearly all surveyed businesses expect stability or an increase in employment levels in the next half-year.
Almost a third of respondents also said they expect to increase their investment in plant, machinery and buildings in the next six months.
Enterprise North Canterbury Business Support Manager Miles Dalton says whilst the confidence statistics may appear bleak, it’s clearly not all bad news.
“Yes, business confidence in North Canterbury is now the lowest it has been since we started surveying in 2013,” says Dalton. “But that lack of confidence is not reflected in the investment levels, which are steady, and employment of new staff, which has increased.
“People tend to be pessimistic about what is to come, while at the same time preparing for growth,” explains Dalton.
“Overall, North Canterbury is broadly in line with the patterns of the rest of New Zealand. We are seeing better profitability than we were a year ago and although we are having difficulties in finding staff, we seem to be finding it easier than the rest of New Zealand.”
The report showed that despite the increase in employment levels, most businesses are finding it equally difficult or more difficult to find staff in the region. Interestingly, businesses found it was harder to find semi-skilled and unskilled staff, but the ability to find skilled staff (traditionally the hardest type of staff to find) has remained the same.
Nicky Fairbairn, South Island Operations Manager of rural recruitment agency Rural People says staffing in the farming sector is an increasingly difficult problem, particularly for an industry which relies heavily on migrant workers.
“In the rural sector it has become very difficult to find staff for the lower level roles,” she says.
“There are a few reasons for this: firstly, Immigration New Zealand has put in place a rule where lower skilled staff may only work for three years then they have to go home for a year. Also, many migrant workers prefer to bring their family over as they don’t want to come all this way on their own and leave their family behind, but now they can’t have family here until they are considered a higher skill level - a 2IC or above. This puts a lot of people off coming here at all, but it also means we are seeing lower skilled staff trying to fast track themselves into the higher skill level farming roles which leaves a huge gap where we have a severe shortage.
“Ministry of Social Development have no staff to offer, and residents of New Zealand are few and far between with job applications.
“It’s always been competitive out there to find staff for rural roles in all sectors but it’s more competitive than it’s ever been and very difficult to even find a migrant worker now.”
Fairbairn says that the farming sector is looking stable and employment would likely grow if the labour units were available.
“Many are running on less staff because of shortages.”