Fresh off the block . . . Trying out the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs are (from left) Indi Raybould (17), Canterbury Wool Spinners yarn making manager Owen Ross, Nikau Raybould (17) and yarn finish manager Bryan Perkins. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Labour shortages across the Waitaki district are leading to fierce competition among employers looking for staff.

Having worked in manufacturing for more than 30 years, Rainbow Confectionery Limited general manager Brent Baillie said the labour shortage gripping the country at present was the worst he had seen.

Mr Baillie said Rainbow Confectionery had done everything but put a sign out on the street to fill 12 full-time and 20 part-time vacancies.

His big question was: ‘‘where are all the people on the job seeker benefit?’’

In August, there were 363 people in Waitaki on work ready jobseeker support.

Workbridge employee consultant Dawn Ewing said this number was high for the district.

Ms Ewing and her colleague Sandra Familton were trying to bridge the gap between those unemployed and businesses looking for workers — but there was no single answer.

‘‘We should all be doing everything we can to [support] people who are wanting to find work,’’ Ms Ewing said.

‘‘We as a community need to ask ‘if we have jobs and people are looking, how do we get them married up?’.’’

Ms Ewing and Ms Familton were also contracted under the Waitaki District Council’s Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs programme.

Though there was a ‘‘traditional nervousness’’ around employing youth, many businesses were embracing the programme as a solution to the labour shortage.

‘‘Some of these employers deserve a medal because they are like an additional parent, social workers, counsellors, teachers, mentors all rolled into one,’’ Ms Ewing said.

‘‘That’s lovely, that’s the way a community is meant to work.’’

A community was failing its young people if they left school with no job to go to, she said.

Outside the taskforce, the two were trying to match prospective employees with employers, filling positions from apprenticeships to caregiver roles.

‘‘We have seen a massive increase in labour and factory positions which is surprising — normally they are the easier ones to self fill.’’

Ms Ewing knew of one employer who was looking at installing expensive technology because they could not find people to do the task. The employer would rather hire people, but was struggling to find them, she said.

Mrs Ewing said the labour shortage ‘‘stymied’’ business — if employers could not get staff, it shrank the economy because they were not producing at capacity. It was a vicious cycle.

There was also the issue of finding the right employee. Skills could be taught — but Ms Ewing and Ms Familton said employers wee struggling to find people with driver’s licences and who could pass a drug test.

Canterbury Spinners Ltd human resources manager Marty Davey had seen an increasing lack of preparation, as younger prospective employees would inquire about jobs without a CV, would dress inappropriately, or expect to get an application form without speaking to anybody.

Mr Davey said Oamaru was lucky to have so many manufacturing jobs, but this also increased the demand for workers.

‘‘We are all in the same market looking for the same people.’’

Canterbury Spinners was embracing the mayor’s taskforce and had recently hired two teenagers, with plans to employ two more next year.

Mr Davey said the programme could be one possible answer to the labour shortage, and saw young people as future leaders. He wanted to provide an opportunity for young people to grow in Oamaru —especially those who were not interested in going to university.

The Covid-19 border closure also created competitors out of industries that traditionally relied on migrant workers.

Whitestone Cheese managing director Simon Berry said the inability for workers to enter the country stretched the market even ‘‘thinner’’.

Mr Berry said Whitestone Cheese had experienced challenges in finding staff and had a smaller pool of applicants to choose from than normal. The company had recently recruited people from outside the district.

The Alliance Group Pukeuri meat works was taking a similar tack to fill 50 available positions.

Plant manager Phil Shuker said with low unemployment and the meat processing and exporting sector’s ‘‘chronic’’ labour shortage, the company had made a‘‘significantly enhanced effort’’ to find employees.

‘‘The border closure, as well as the limited managed isolation spots, have prevented us from employing a small number of workers from overseas.’’

To helpmake up the shortfall, the company completed a national recruitment campaign to attract people to Oamaru.

In part, the campaign was directed at those who might consider moving temporarily or permanently to regions like North Otago, where property was often more affordable.