Would you travel to the regions for a six-hour workday?
The chronic skills shortage is a new problem for many employers, but not for Trudi Ballantyne, who has long since decided to tell her employees that she will pay them not to work.
Ballantyne runs a rural accounting firm based in Te Puke called Stem and three years ago decided to set up a scheme to pay workers for a full day but have them work six hours.
This move was not just to give people more free time, but to extend the distance from which people could travel.
Te Puke is half an hour from Tauranga, so the new initiative effectively paid anyone living in Tauranga for their travel time.
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Ballantyne’s story is part of a Chartered Accounts New Zealand discussion paper on what regions can do to attract staff at a time when businesses in big cities are also struggling to retain them.
New Zealand’s working-age population has shrunk by 0.2% and the Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs expects 50,000 New Zealanders to leave this year.
However, some migration trends favor the regions: housing is unaffordable in many major New Zealand cities and Covid-19 has made some people more reluctant to live in urban areas.
A Bloomberg analysis of the largest cities in the United States shows that New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and San Diego all saw population declines last year.
Internal migration figures from economic consultancy Berl show a similar trend over the same period in New Zealand, with more people leaving Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for other places than vice versa.
Rush Digital’s chief technology officer, Danu Abeysuriya, whose company is based in Auckland, felt the need to recruit tech staff.
He is not only facing problems because workers are looking to move to Australia, but also because they are considering moving to rural New Zealand.
“We get this weird mix of people going ‘well, Auckland is so expensive, [but] I can buy a house if I leave Auckland and work remotely for an overseas company.”
Abeysuriya says some workers are turning down high-paying job offers in Auckland in favor of remote work roles with big multinational tech companies paying “San Francisco wages” – and most importantly if you move to the regions where you don’t have to pay San Francisco rents.
Ballantyne says her business isn’t necessarily targeting the type of people who are leaving New Zealand right now.
Instead, she hopes her company’s offer might appeal to those returning and considering settling down.
But cutting employee hours isn’t just about issuing an executive order, it requires you to take a long and hard look at the routine aspects of everyone’s job.
It also comes down to removing little things that should have been thrown away a long time ago: like the office admin’s daily commute to check the mailbox. After all, what’s the point of picking up the mail every day if it doesn’t even arrive every day?
The company has also decided to ditch its morning tea break in favor of a shared cultural building activity on a Wednesday afternoon: sometimes a nature walk, other times a table tennis competition or even a Tai Chi lessons.
Among all this, there is another aspect to which his company had to pay special attention: the education of its new workers in the basics of rural life and agriculture.
“We take our people out to farms and orchards on a semi-regular basis and say ‘okay, this is what a golden kiwi looks like, this is how we grow it’.”
The CAANZ reports also hint at this issue, they suggest: “The higher education curriculum and/or chartered accountant qualification could be expanded to include optional courses in agriculture, forestry and natural resources .
“This would mean that accountants would be qualified to have more focused and relevant skills to work in the regions.”
As fuel costs have risen, Ballantyne says more employees have asked to work from home, so the company has found a compromise where people commit to some days in the office and others. at home.
They also try to keep people in the same office between 10am and 3pm.
Otorohanga District Council Mayor Max Baxter chairs the Mayors for Jobs Task Force, which has spearheaded initiatives to train young people and others for jobs in rural communities.
Baxter says there are ways to train young people living in rural communities for in-demand roles in rural communities, and if progress could be made on this, it would significantly reduce these worker shortages.
Barriers to employment include driver’s license issues: it is impossible to get a job in rural areas without a driver’s license.
But you also have to travel a significant distance to get your license.
People who need to get a permit in Kaikōura, for example, have to drive an hour and a half to Blenheim to get one.
“For small rural areas in New Zealand, there are real problems with logistics, obtaining licenses.
“A lot of families, they may not even have a warrant and a registered car, let alone a licensed driver to teach their Rangitahi to drive.”
He says the task force has made progress in training more young people in areas where there are labor shortages.
But even if changes are made in these areas, he says there will still be skills shortages in rural areas, a gap the country will have to fill with immigration.
“I don’t think there is an area in New Zealand where we are not affected by the skills shortage.
“Our productivity in this country is going to be further stunted until we have this skilled labor available to ensure our businesses can operate effectively.”