Skill mismatches and worker shortages in the New Zealand arboriculture industry : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Business Studies at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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There seems to be endemic shortages of skilled arborists in New Zealand. Economics largely treats labour shortages as a matter of wage with price determining the allocation of goods including labour. However, sociological and work psychology literature suggests working conditions and how people are treated by managers and the public may be important factors, especially in keeping employees. This study aims to explore factors that contribute to recruitment and retention difficulties with respect to skilled arborists. An online survey was distributed via the industry association followed by 11 qualitative interviews directed toward a mix of both workers and employers. Participants were questioned about their experiences with the field arborist role, both positive and negative, as well as how they thought the occupation could be improved. Upon completion of the initial analysis a second round of 4 confirmatory interviews were carried out. The findings suggest that the wage rates for skilled workers may be artificially low due to structural features such as intense product market competition, the dominance of small firms, and a lack of sector organisation by workers or firms. Supply is also limited due to the demanding nature of the work and insufficient training, as well as recent restrictions on overseas labour. However, this study also suggests that a focus on low wages as the cause of recruitment and retention problems provides an incomplete account of the problem. This is because low pay also contributes to skills mismatch in terms of labour deployment, reducing the intrinsic satisfiers associated with the role and subsequently pushing many workers into self-employment. This increases quantities of small and often unprofessional firms, while increasing competition for work and staff. Increased coordination of the industry to improve the wages and conditions of the field arborist role would provide benefits for both workers and employers. Fair Pay Agreements could be a mechanism for achieving this. I suggest, in that this process should be initiated by the firms themselves in the interest over overcoming the skill shortage and need not be driven by a union. Future study should take the form of action research documenting the implementation of this process.