Job market tightest seen, HR head says

Forsyth Barr head of human resources Lisa Blondell , of Dunedin, has never seen such tight labour...
Forsyth Barr head of human resources Lisa Blondell , of Dunedin, has never seen such tight labour market. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Dunedin needs to be doing more to attract graduates to stay in the city to help a ‘‘very tight’’ labour market, a human resources executive says.

Closed borders and the impact of the Covid-19 has put pressure on employers with a lack of applicants to fill vacant jobs.

Last week, Stats NZ released its labour market figures for the September 2021 quarter, which showed the unemployment rate had hit 3.4%, its lowest since before the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

Forsyth Barr’s head of human resources, Lisa Blondell, has been in human resources for about 16 years, 12 of which has been at the Dunedin-headquartered investment company, and has never seen such a tight labour market.

Previously, certain jobs had been hard to fill, but now it was every job.

People were feeling secure in their current jobs after the lockdowns and were not wanting to ‘‘take the leap,’’ she said.

‘‘Even if they aren’t happy where they are, there are no guarantees they won’t be made redundant at the new job.’’

Forsyth Barr had been struggling to fill roles in Dunedin and with the university on the back doorstep, the investment company decided to start an internship programme to try to tap into that market to secure talent.

It was currently advertising for four graduates on 24-month internships, which would rotate through the different functions of the company’s Dunedin office, such as settlements, corporate actions, portfolio services and accounting.

The aim of the internship was, if they were good enough, to retain them in roles throughout the company.

So far the roles had only about 30 applicants which was ‘‘not many at all’’, Mrs Blondell said.

‘‘I have advertised for roles before and have had 200-plus applicants, this is just a sign of what the market is like.’’

There needed to be something done to attract graduates to stay in Dunedin, and also, recruit them in from out of town.

The city had a lot going for it, with cheaper housing than other cities, short commuting times and also had a ‘‘great vibrancy’’ about it.

None of the universities around the country had contacted Mrs Blondell to look at what could be done to get graduates into secure employment.

‘‘It’s really challenging times, it’s tough for them and it’s tough for us as well,’’ she said.

University of Otago Business School dean Prof Robin Gauld believed there needed to be more work between the university and the business community to help keep graduates in town.

The graduates were there, but it was a matter of connecting the two.

Australian universities were very good at holding open days and making employers visible to the students.

‘‘We probably need to be doing more of that here,’’ he said.

Prof Gauld was concerned that once the borders opened, which could only be a matter of months away, graduates would be off seeking opportunities overseas.

‘‘That will make a bad situation even worse, once the doors open, they will be off.’’

Employers were trying to fix their skill shortages and Prof Gauld did not think businesses and the Government were focusing enough on what they could get out of new graduates.

‘‘It is quite a troubled landscape at the moment,’’ he said.


The job market *is* tight, but this bank's timing is off. The best students seeking NZ banking jobs were scooped up already in March/April. Those seeking Australian jobs were placed in June/July. Historically, this is the wrong time of year to be advertising.

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