Effects of a major disaster on skills shortages in the construction industry: Lessons learned from New Zealand

The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the effects of a major disaster on the management of human resources in the construction sector. It sets out to identify the construction skills challenges and the factors that affected skills availability following the 2010/2011 earthquakes in Christchurch. It is hoped that this study will provide insights for on-going reconstruction and future disaster response with respect to the problem of skills shortages. Design/methodology/approach A triangulation method was adopted. The quantitative method, namely, a questionnaire survey, was employed to provide a baseline description. Field observations and interviews were used as a follow-up to ascertain issues and potential shortages over time. Three focus groups in the form of research workshops were convened to gain further insight into the feedback and to investigate the validity and applicability of the research findings. Findings The earthquakes in Christchurch had compounded the pre-existing skills shortages in the country due to heightened demand from reconstruction. Skills shortages primarily existed in seismic assessment and design for land and structures, certain trades, project management and site supervision. The limited technical capability available nationally, shortage of temporary accommodation to house additional workers, time needed for trainees to become skilled workers, lack of information about reconstruction workloads and lack of operational capacity within construction organisations, were critical constraints to the resourcing of disaster recovery projects. Research limitations/implications The research findings contribute to the debate on skills issues in construction. The study provides evidence that contributes to an improved understanding of the industry’s skills vulnerability and emerging issues that would likely exist after a major disaster in a resource-limited country such as New Zealand. Practical implications From this research, decision makers and construction organisations can gain a clear direction for improving the construction capacity and capability for on-going reconstruction. Factors that affected the post-earthquake skills availability can be considered by decision makers and construction organisations in their workforce planning for future disaster events. The recommendations will assist them in addressing skills shortages for on-going reconstruction. Originality/value Although the study is country-specific, the findings show the nature and scale of skills challenges the construction industry is likely to face following a major disaster, and the potential issues that may compound skills shortages. It provides lessons for other disaster-prone countries where the resource pool is small and a large number of additional workers are needed to undertake reconstruction.

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