What are skill shortages?

Find out what skill and labour shortages mean, and how these affect your career opportunities.

What is a skill shortage?

A skill shortage exists when there are not enough people with a particular skill to meet demand. Skill shortage is a catch-all term used to describe a range of situations in which an employer finds it hard to find a worker with the right skills.

Skill shortages may differ in cause and nature.

Joiner Phil Schwartfeger putting a piece of wood into a vice

During the housing boom in the mid-2000s

Genuine skill shortages

Genuine skill shortages occur when employers find it hard to fill job vacancies because there are not enough job seekers who have the required skills. For example, if carpenters were needed for construction projects, but there were too few carpenters with these skills currently unemployed and looking for a job, that would be a genuine skill shortage.

Skill shortages caused by recruitment and retention difficulties

This is when there is a good supply of individuals who have the required skills, but they choose not to work because they are unhappy with pay rates and/or working conditions.

Labour shortage

A labour shortage occurs when there are just not enough workers available to do all the work required. This kind of shortage can happen across industries, and affects skilled, low/semi-skilled and unskilled jobs. Low unemployment is a major cause of this type of shortage.

Skills in demand change over time and can be influenced by:

  • technological changes – for example, a move to automation may mean workers need additional skills to be able to operate new machinery
  • economic shifts – for example, significant growth in the economy may create a labour shortage
  • the global movement of skilled workers – for example, people with certain skills may choose to work overseas for better pay and conditions
  • ageing populations – for example, some jobs have a high number of older workers, and when these workers retire, they leave a skills gap.

How can I find out where there are skill shortages?

You may want to find out if the job or industry you are interested in working in has any skill shortages. There are several places you can go to find out this information. You can:

  • use our website to look up the job or industry you are interested in. You can then look at the 'Job outlook' on job pages, or the 'About this industry' section on industry pages, to see how well the job or industry is doing
  • check Immigration New Zealand's long-term and immediate skill shortage lists. These are aimed at attracting workers from overseas to positions that cannot be filled locally
  • check the business section of newspapers or news websites – there are often articles about where skill shortages are
  • contact the relevant industry training organisation – they may be able to tell you where trainees are needed, or direct you to useful information.

What do skill shortages mean for planning my career?

You will probably not choose a job solely because you know there is a skill shortage in this area. 

However, knowing what skills and specialisations are in high demand can assist you to make better career decisions by helping you:

  • choose the best option from your fields of interest
  • narrow down many possibilities to those that are most likely to lead to work
  • make a decision about whether to commit your time and money to training in a particular area.

Updated 31 Aug 2015