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Tradies flat out, facing challenges

Character Building Ltd owner Phill Claffey has the next four to six months already booked out with homes to build.

It is a common scenario in the trade and construction industry at the moment, with many customers having to wait longer for work to be done.

The Tairawhiti Trade and Construction Survey 2020 — sponsored by Civil Project Solutions and Trust Tairawhiti — found 80 percent of businesspeople answered that they were very, or extremely, confident about their business prospects over the next six months.

“They told us they were busy, with 52 percent of them having at least five months work in front of them and 17 percent having more than a year of construction ahead of them,” said Chamber of Commerce president Paul Naske.

Sixty owners of trade and construction-related companies across a wide range of sizes and sectors have taken part so far in the survey, which is not quite completed and will be accompanied by further analysis in a report.

Phill and his team of six staff build new homes, and do renovations.

The biggest challenge owning a construction business right now was general public awareness of how busy they were, he said.

He fielded calls weekly where people thought they could start building their new homes in a month or two.

“People need to get their plans all lined up and be prepared to wait. Once you contact a builder, be prepared to wait four to six months before work will start onsite.”

Character Building is building three new homes at the moment and also doing a renovation.

Half of his team are apprentices — two are in their third year and will be signed off this year, and another is a first year apprentice who Phill signed up about nine months ago.

Phill was an apprentice himself when he started building as a 16-year-old, and has operated his building company for 15 years.

His take on the building boom is the basic economics of supply and demand.

“There are around 86 houses in Gisborne on the real estate web page, and there were around 190 this time last year.

“People are moving back here and there is a shortage of houses.”

The survey has also found 75 percent of those taking part felt they were being held back by a lack of suitable staff.

A local businessman in the construction sector said what he needed more of were employees at the higher end — like quality surveyors, project managers, those who could upskill the apprentices.

Lately they had been looking offshore to fill these higher-end spots, with one new recruit stuck in Namibia because of the border restrictions due to Covid-19.

Another survey result was that the 57 businesses surveyed intend to hire a minimum of 40 staff.

“If this is extrapolated across the entire database of trade and construction companies, in Tairawhiti, it is likely the demand for new employees may be in the order of 80 jobs,” said Mr Naske.

The construction boss said they could easily take on more staff but there was no certainty for how long this construction boom would last.

“The Government is chucking all this money out there for the shovel-ready projects, and want us to start tomorrow, but what’s going to happen in a year’s time?

“It has created a huge wall of work for the next six months to a year, but there is no certainty beyond that.

“The Government is flooding the market and not letting us see the future — that’s our biggest problem.

“There is no forward planning.”