Peter McCawe: Bay of Plenty needs to retain its talent


Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty have done a lot of growing – up and out – during the 2000s. With the rest of New Zealand, indeed the world, increasingly learning what an amazing
slice of paradise we have here, that trend will only continue.
However, if we want to continue enjoying our amazing lifestyle in New Zealand’s best region, we need to make sure we keep building the homes and infrastructure our growing province needs. That’s why I’m calling on every person in the Bay of Plenty who knows a local construction professional to convince that person to stay in the Bay — and to encourage our school leavers to follow suit and join our industry.

All around New Zealand Covid has created well-documented issues for the building and construction industries. Unfortunately, several of these have been amplified in the Bay of Plenty. The result is not only have local building and construction projects been hit harder by the negative impacts of Covid, but we also face bigger challenges than other regions when it comes to moving forward.

There is a solution – we must jealously guard our Bay of Plenty talent. We need to start thinking like our great All Blacks coaches, taking a long-term view and investing in future stars.

In addition to a super-deep squad of generalists, we need to make sure we’re planning ahead and training specialists who can cover specific positions. The importance of specialists – and the problems not having them in the district can create – was highlighted during the last Auckland lockdown.

Our proximity to the City of Sails is usually a great thing – but in this instance, it worked against us. While goods and materials were able to freely travel around the country, people were not. The lockdown exposed how reliant the Bay of Plenty is on specialist industry skills from Auckland. A number of projects throughout our region were impacted last year because the people with the required expertise — say, installing a lift or deep basement waterproofing — couldn’t cross the hard border.

Peter McCawe is the general manager of new business at Downer. Photo / Supplied

Nearly 10 months on, the impact of not being able to get the right people into the Bay of Plenty last year is still being felt.

Around the country, employers are hoping that the recently opened borders will take the pressure off our super-squeezed labour market. But the opposite is also a distinct possibility as the open borders are tempting our young people to head off on their OE. The number of working-aged people in the Bay of Plenty is already below the national average – we simply can’t afford to see more of them go.

Our skilled workers and even our untrained young people are being aggressively targeted by global recruitment (it’s not just New Zealand having a labour crisis). Making sure we have new talent rising through the ranks, and a skilled local workforce on the field right now, requires us to mount our own campaign to convince people to stay in the Bay.

We need to do better at convincing our talent not to switch teams. Over the past two decades, industry leaders such as Downer and Hawkins have invested significantly in attracting young people into the construction sector and showing them the great career pathways they can have, progressing from apprentices and semi-skilled labourers all the way through to specialised positions and senior leadership roles.

Local industry groups such as the Urban Task Force for Tauranga (UTF) are also providing a collective voice to pave the way for our people within the industry. By supporting growth within the Tauranga property, development & building sector the task force has been instrumental in influencing local and national body leaders around our city’s issues and providing pathways to help resolve them.

As a community, we have a job to do to remind our young people of the value of being valued. The millennial workforce has never lived through a recession, so they don’t see the benefits of a career versus working in a gig economy. Overseas they will be used as a migrant labour force with no job security. They won’t receive the development and training they need to progress their careers (and command higher salaries).

We live local because we love local. When it comes to the things that make the Bay of Plenty great, our people are right at the top of that list. Let’s all do what we can to keep all the amazing talent we already have here and develop the young people who will enable us to build a brighter future for this amazing region.

Peter McCawe is the general manager of new business at Downer – a New Zealand engineering, infrastructure management and construction services provider.
He has worked in the construction industry for more than 25 years.