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Kiwibuild faces labour crisis: UK expert

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/03/2018 Nikki Mandow

The government's flagship Kiwibuild programme is doomed to fail unless the construction sector can find a way of addressing the chronic skills shortage, says a leading adviser to the UK government.

Mark Farmer, author of the hard-hitting 2016 report "Modernise or die: Time to decide the industry's future" is visiting New Zealand this week.

He argues worsening skills shortages in the construction sector will see house prices increasing and quality falling - even if the government solves other problems, like availability of land.

The government has said its Kiwibuild programme will deliver 100,000 affordable houses over the next 10 years.

But that's not going to happen without a radical rethink of how the construction sector operates, Mr Farmer said.

"Japan lost 30 per cent of its construction workforce in last 14 years - that's how bad it could get."

In New Zealand, far more builders and tradespeople were leaving the industry each year than were coming in, a situation which would push up costs, delay vital building projects and increase the chance of shoddy work.

There weren't enough skilled overseas workers available to rely on migrant labour. Instead, the industry needs to train far more local talent, creating attractive long-term career opportunities in the building sector.

But that still won't be enough.

Mr Farmer said there also needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the building sector works to make the industry more efficient.

He called it "pre-manufactured value" - increasing the amount of a house that is made in a factory or workshop and assembled on site.

Traditionally around 40 per cent of any house is pre-made but a new UK Government affordable housing project, Homes England, will see that percentage rise to as much as 65 per cent in some cases, Mr Farmer said, including pre-made wall and floor systems, and even whole bathrooms or kitchens.

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