A dinner in London might be an unusual way to get a job at a New Zealand company, but for Yvonne Chaplin, that’s exactly how her new role at professional services consultancy Beca began.

Originally from the UK and an experienced engineer and project manager, Yvonne and her husband had frequently discussed making the move to Aotearoa, but it wasn’t until last year they finally made it happen.

When her husband showed her an advertisement on LinkedIn for a ‘meet-and-greet’ dinner organised and attended by Beca employees, past and present, Yvonne was intrigued.

“People could come along and talk about Beca, what the company can offer, and what life in New Zealand is like,” she says.

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Following the dinner, and a chat with the company’s People and Culture team, Yvonne was put in touch with team leaders to discuss employment options. Next thing she knew, she was offered a role as a project manager within the industrial team – and started work out of Beca’s Auckland head office in January.

Offshore hires crucial

Attracting specialist migrant workers like Yvonne is critical in the midst of a global talent crunch – and it’s not a new issue. Back in 2021, a report into skills shortages, recruitment and immigration challenges in the construction sector, co-authored by the Association of Consulting and Engineering New Zealand, Te Kāhui Whaihanga NZ Institute of Architects, Civil Contractors NZ and Registered Master Builders, found more than 3000 unfilled vacancies in the sector.

Last year, findings published by Hanga-Aro-Rau, the manufacturing, engineering and logistics Workforce Development Council, estimated the country could be looking for people to fill 12,000 engineering-related roles by 2028 if current trends continue.

This shortage is also playing out across the Tasman; Engineers Australia data shows vacancies across the country have grown by 80 percent over the past two years.

While the Government and the private sector are working to address the gap, it’s not going to be resolved any time soon. Skills shortages that existed pre-2023 have been heightened by the massive amounts of repair and clean-up work needed following the Auckland Anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle, which came on top of a year of big weather events dating back to Cyclone Dovi in February 2022 and August events that severely impacted the Marlborough and Tasman regions.

Yvonne Chaplin at the Thames Barrier in London. Photo: Supplied

In February this year the Government launched a Recovery Visa to fast-track the path for specialist migrant workers, including engineers, technicians, and insurance assessors, to come to New Zealand and assist with the disaster response.

People with the right mix of skills are particularly needed to support the rebuild, and to enhance community resilience and ability to plan for, mitigate and respond to increasingly severe weather events, and the effects of climate change – from cyclones and storms to drought, and rising sea levels.

Outside the box

While Beca’s history stretches back over 100 years, and the employee-owned company has grown to around 4000 people across Aotearoa, Australia, and Asia, more people are still needed in a range of professional roles.

Yvonne is one of about 1100 who joined Beca last year. Globally, a combination of company growth and turnover means the company is still looking to fill about 250 jobs, the majority of which are in New Zealand.

The ongoing skills shortage has meant coming up with creative ways to scout out and secure talent.

As well as the meet and greet functions abroad, the company last year set up a set up a scheme which sees mid-career employees wanting to spend time living and working abroad linked up with like-minded companies overseas.

The plan is for Beca to keep in touch with these former employees, so when they are ready to head home, the company can try to encourage them back into the fold.

Anne Henry says hiring offshore adds to the experience, diversity and perspective of a team. Photo: Supplied

Anne Henry, the company’s chief people and culture officer, says hiring offshore is a crucial part of Beca’s New Zealand People and Culture strategy – about 20 percent of new hires come from overseas, with many from the UK and South Africa.

“With such high demand for specialist skills, both directly in the Hawkes Bay to respond to Cyclone Gabrielle, and in fact right across the country, it’s important to us to recruit from overseas to supplement our existing workforce and build on our ongoing recruitment efforts within New Zealand,” Anne says.

“Looking to other geographies for talented people also brings with it many additional benefits, enabling us to learn and grow from one another, and to enjoy the diverse experience, backgrounds and perspective new hires bring from around the globe.”

Shaping the future

The Beca team are no strangers to providing support in the wake of natural disasters and other devastating events – with a number of people involved in both the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquake responses.

Right now, the company is involved in responding to weather and wider climate change events and planning all over the motu, from the initial emergency response to recovery and rebuild, says Andrea Rickard, Beca’s general manager for Transport and Infrastructure.

Working in NZ can give a professional “career-defining” experience, Andrea Rickard says. Photo: Supplied

During this year’s wild weather events, Beca has been at the front end of the response, including the reopening of State Highway 5 and State Highway 2, both key transport routes which suffered heavy damage, through to advising government on strategies for prioritisation, new policy and legislation.

“You might have your technical background, but whether it’s in engineering, planning, environmental or another discipline, you get to do things that you might not have expected when working in these response, recovery and rebuild environments. This can be the chance to build a professional and personal network that can be truly career-defining,” she says.

Building resilience

Although Yvonne is primarily based in Beca’s Auckland head office, her main project is for a large industrial client in Hawkes Bay. While work on the project began before Cyclone Gabrielle and hence was never actually intended as part of the recovery response, the site got swept up in the cyclone, suffering extensive flooding and damage.

For a time this meant going to work in a hazmat suit, mask, gloves, goggles, and gumboots.

Hawkes Bay was one of the regions hard hit by this year’s devastating storms. Photo: Joseph Cant

“The scale of the devastation in Hawkes Bay is really confronting. I have been blown away by the resilience of the people down there, both the Beca team and also our client teams who’ve had an awful lot of challenging times,” she says.

“While it’s been difficult, it’s also been positive in some ways, as you can help to support people and hopefully build some resilience into the site for the future.”

Settling in

Once Yvonne decided to switch jobs – and countries – it was up to the Beca recruitment team to help with visas and other paperwork before she and her husband arrived in New Zealand in mid-December last year.

Once here, the company’s People and Culture team worked hard to provide support, and her colleagues helped too.

“There are a lot of people at Beca who have been through a similar experience, be that Kiwis who have travelled within the company to work on certain projects, or people like me who have come from different parts of the world,” says Yvonne.

“You’re never far from someone who understands the level of change involved, and can provide some advice.”

Beca also has a detailed induction plan which doesn’t just introduce new people to the company, but to the country too, says Anne.

“Some of that also comes down to the inclusive culture we have. People genuinely reach out and ensure that people within their sections and teams are included, whether that be from a work perspective, but also outside of work as well. Making sure that they’ve got that good sense of community and support, whether through work or life, is key.”

Lessons and learnings

Now that she has made the plunge to come to Aotearoa, what is Yvonne’s advice? She thinks the first step is to be clear about what you want to achieve.

“Do your research and understand what it is that you want to get out of that move, whether it’s exploring a new culture, or whether there’s something specific that you want to get in terms of your lifestyle,” she says.

Meanwhile, the talent wars will continue to rage on and the consulting industry needs to work together to tackle shared problems, Anne says.

“It’s about how we collectively come together and solve some of these challenges, whether it be looking to support each other in offshore recruitment campaigns or working together as an industry to address these head on.”

Andrea calls it “radical collaboration”, not just the number of people on a project, but also on new ways of approaching technical challenges and producing innovative ideas.

“The best outcome for New Zealand is really important for Beca and it’s something we think about as an NZ-headquartered, and employee-owned company,” she says.

“Magic happens when you have an unexpected grouping together of diverse specialists and experiences.”

Beca is a foundation supporter of Newsroom

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