Queenstown’s workforce squeeze has eased

The March 2023 labour market report for Queenstown Lakes District has been released and can be downloaded here. The report was commissioned by Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC).

There has been a huge lift in youth and female employment over the past year, which has massively eased employment shortages. The challenge moving ahead will be on retention, particularly in an environment where wage increases are unlikely to be as rapid as we have experienced recently due to signs that profit margins are becoming squeezed.

A full media release on the report, courtesy of QLDC’s communications team, is below.

The latest quarterly labour market snapshot report for Queenstown Lakes shows a sharp lift in the availability of workers for the district.

As well as labour market growth of 2,500 additional jobs compared to one year ago, hospitality employment is up to 85% of pre-COVID levels compared to 67% this time last year.

Report author and economist Benje Patterson said this is primarily due to a rise in workforce participation by women and youth, where employers have tapped into previously under-utilised parts of the labour market.

“But not all is roses. Signs are mounting of a profit squeeze for businesses, which has led to wages not rising as fast as they were. Retaining staff as we move towards the winter season will now be the big challenge, particularly as it is getting harder to just write bigger pay cheques and housing availability remains tight.

“Increasingly, good employers are finding other ways to encourage people to stay by fostering a great workplace environment.”

Mr Patterson’s latest report highlighted available data reflecting employee sentiment in the district. It found that local worker sentiment is slightly better than the national average for tourism and hospitality workers. On the other hand, there is some evidence from Queenstown Lakes District Council’s (QLDC) Quality of Life survey that sentiment has deteriorated amongst local workers over recent years.

Mr Patterson called for an increased focus on evidence to monitor employee sentiment and its drivers for Queenstown Lakes, consistent with the government and tourism industry partnership’s commitment to a nationwide monitoring and evaluation framework in its ‘Better Work Action Plan.’

QLDC Economic Development Manager Peter Harris supported this approach.

“It’s heartening to see more vacancies being filled. However, encouraging those workers to choose to stay in the district is key. Alongside the practicalities of work, how people feel about their job and the team they work in plays an important part in whether staff stay or move on.

Queenstown Business Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Sharon Fifield agreed that investment in employee satisfaction is vital in today’s competitive environment. 

“Funding towards implementation of the ‘Better Work Action Plan’ for tourism, announced in Budget 2023, includes an accreditation scheme to encourage employer best practice. MahiQL, a district-wide workforce strategy and planning initiative led by the Chamber, would be the perfect partner for government to design, test and pilot the nationwide approach.”

Ms Fifield added “we are building up to a busy winter season and worker accommodation still remains a challenge. It’s promising to see so many businesses working to find solutions to ease pressures for their staff, as ultimately having a healthy, secure and affordable place to live is essential for attracting and retaining staff.”

The full report by Benje Patterson is available for download here.