Builders and other tradespeople have been struggling with empty shop shelves; weeks, sometimes month-long delays in delivery of essential materials, and soaring costs. The issues are far from over. 

Try buying a bag of nails these days – they’re almost as rare as hens’ teeth. And if you do find them, buying them will leave a huge hole in your pocket.

It’s all part of the crisis in the building supply chain.

For months builders and other tradespeople have been struggling with empty shop shelves; weeks, sometimes month-long delays in delivery of essential materials; and soaring costs.

Covid-disrupted shipping and port backlogs, and unprecedented global demand are being blamed.

But the hard to find, outrageously expensive bag of nails is not all because of the pandemic.

It’s also about China’s attempt to be greener, says Building Industry Federation chief executive Julien Leys.

“Most of our nails come out of Asia, places like China, that are now going through their own contraction in terms of production because they don’t have the energy due to a lack of coal, and the whole adjustment around trying to shift away from coal.

“That’s now exposed that the supply chain and manufacturing base is actually not set up for (the change) yet.”

Leys spends a lot of time dealing with suppliers, shipping merchants, small builders to large manufacturers.

The supply issues are “ongoing and constant”.

At a bankers’ Q and A session of a Westpac webinar about the broken supply chain early this week, Leys broke the news that the crisis is far from over.

He explains to The Detail’s Sharon Brettkelly how the pandemic has highlighted numerous weaknesses.

“Going into Covid we had things that were being downgraded, including international shipping; the dependence on Just in Time labour, we would import labour when we needed it; the underinvestment in infrastructure and local manufacturing.

“All those things we took for granted thinking that we could rely on this wonderful global supply chain that always worked. Well, it’s caught us out.”

Auckland plasterer Darrin McLay also talks to The Detail about going from supplier to supplier with his list of essentials, being turned away at the door and coming home empty handed.

McLay says he’s also been with builders in recent days who have had to make multiple phone calls trying to track materials and have failed to get them.

“I don’t know how bad it’s going to get but I had a report of two builders fighting over the last pieces of four by two at Bunnings, I’ve heard reports of people stealing materials off site.”

But Julien Leys says it will get better in the long run.

“We are seeing a shift now to more investment in local manufacturing, we’re seeing people adopt technologies, things like automation and AI (artificial intelligence), things that may be able to compensate for not having the people to do the work.”

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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