New Zealand 2019 – Industry insiders predict growth but are plagued by skills shortages
by Jenny Barrett.
Every sector of the industry is oozing with optimism when asked about 2019. It seems the only issue is where to find the men and women who are actually going to pull all these projects together. Staff recruitment and retention are topping the list of challenges as we head into the new year.
Production & Hire
Andre Goldsmith, Managing Director, Hang Up Entertainment Services
Opportunities abound for Andre Goldsmith in Christchurch, so much so we’ve let him have three…
1. Venues coming onstream post-earthquake
“After the earthquakes, all Christchurch’s AV companies have done what they can to survive. None have gone under, but it has been subsistence trading really for the last few years. Now it feels like we are coming out the other side. The inner city is getting a bit of a buzz with more people out and about.
After seven years of doom and gloom, I think the outlook is very positive. The Town Hall re-opens for business on 1st March, so we’ll be supplying the Town Hall again and that’s another space for people to use so there will be more bookings for events. We can also start to see progress on the Convention Centre. It is still a good eighteen months away but just being able to see the structure is a positive thing for Christchurch.
We are a few years’ away from the stadium, with a bit of luck, but conversations are starting and I’m personally working hard on that. I want to make sure that there is input from the ‘hands on’ people and share the lessons learned on the Theatre Royal rebuild.”
2. New industry qualifications rolling out
“The new qualifications for the industry are now in place and are about to be rolled out. This is a serious opportunity, a chance for the more professional companies to be able to show clients that they know their stuff and will protect the audience, staff and workers. We’ve lagged behind Australia and the rest of the world on the compliance and competency baton, so now is our chance. It is also an opening for qualified employees to earn a little bit more.”
3. Increasing awareness of mental health issues
“There has recently been more acknowledgement of the issues of suicide, depression and substance abuse within the industry, particularly amongst casual staff. In some ways the production and hire companies are the ‘other social service’.
We try and offer some regular employment for this itinerant workforce that is actually at the heart of the concert industry. We’ll run the Roady for Roadies again here in Christchurch but maybe it is time for more discussion around what else we can all do.
At Hang Up, we are at the end of the phone, providing work that can be a starting point for staying straight. One of our loaders stayed clean for months and now works for an Outreach Programme for the Salvation Army and plucks people out of there and sends them to us.
It works on both sides as he’s vetting them for us so that we don’t put our people and clients at risk, and we are giving them a chance. We’ve recognised that there’s a group of people that we as an industry need to do more for and we need to continue that conversation.”
The Challenge for 2019: The skills shortage
“Good staff are hard to find. You’ve got to be quick – someone dropped his CV off and I texted him just as he was walking into the next building offering him a job! We’re busy creating a team of full-time highly skilled self-starters, rather than relying on the expertise of our casuals, to try and counter the skills shortage.
“It will be interesting to see how they will staff the Town Hall and the Convention Centre. Really the skills shortage is a challenge that isn’t going to be fixed in 2019. It is New Zealand-wide, not just in Christchurch, and across many sectors.
“Successive governments have failed to address the issue and in my opinion the current generation don’t want to spend time learning a trade from an older person. They want to be in charge and earn the maximum they can immediately, and not start at the bottom, working hard. New Zealand has had the luxury of an industry well-served with experience, but change is coming.”
Hamish Edh, Managing Director, TomTom Productions
The Opportunity for 2019: More music and smarter technology equals more creative show design
“We are optimistic. It is going to be a busy year for the lower South Island with a lot more music happening in Queenstown and Dunedin. We’ve worked alongside Rhythm and Alps to get them on their feet, often just breaking even and experimenting with new stuff.
“Now that is paying dividends and they are bringing Fat Boy Slim and we’ve got Fat Freddy’s Drop and Kimbra coming up. We’re working with Live Nation at the Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
“I think we’re finally coming out of the 2007-8 global financial crisis. Back then there were cranes everywhere and it all ground to a halt. Now there’s a dozen or so cranes on the Queenstown horizon and it feels like things are happening.
“We’re swamped with work so can focus on the bigger show design and enjoy exploring the advances around laser and LED technology and the new creative possibilities that are opening up. We’ll be getting some new exciting toys, I’ve just got to decide what makes business sense and what’s a heart thing!”
The Challenge for 2019: Managing Retention
“In terms of retention, it’s the same across the country, our young people get to a certain point and then they want to go overseas to further their careers. We’re just trying to embrace it and use our networks to help them find a job, hoping that creates a sense of loyalty.
“Perhaps the recent growth that we are seeing and the bigger international acts that are coming to New Zealand will encourage more people to stay because they can grow and develop here rather than having to go abroad.
“Then there’s those that just want to take time out and travel for a bit. Ours is an anti-social business working 12-16 hour days so its good for them to go away and get some work/life balance and we are trying to support that.
“Admittedly I’m still working out how exactly to manage what that throws up, like having no ops manager for three months! We might be looking for a few good people…”
The Opportunity for 2019: Increased awareness of the value of lighting design
“I think 2019 will see an increase in awareness of the importance of including a lighting designer on a project. The commercial sector is finally valuing what we do as lighting designers and recognising that they need to involve specialists.
“Architects and construction companies are acknowledging that it isn’t just about putting a downlight in the middle of the room anymore. Lighting designers can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Lighting technology is more affordable, more flexible, easier to bend, shape and adjust.
“People in the theatre understand the power of tuning the correct colour temperature. Now word is spreading to other sectors about the importance of controlling a light source’s colour temperature output. These days I’m taking a ‘tunable white’ kit with me that demonstrates the colour temperature of light, measured in degrees Kelvin. It shows people what white LEDs created anywhere between 2700K to 6000K will look like to the human eye.
“I’m doing some Heritage NZ projects in churches and so on where the colour temperature can be tailored to certain fittings and the ambience required for different occasions. The potential is huge. I’m involved with apartments in Dunedin, retail spaces in Central Otago, heritage work nationally and even street lighting now that there is greater awareness of the issue of light spill.”
The Challenge for 2019: availability of contract personnel
“The contractors that I call upon make or break what I do. The engineers, technicians, design personnel and installers need a certain skill set and a passion. My challenge for all these projects is gathering that team and it is becoming more and more difficult to find people with availability.
“I’m set to continue to do a lot of teaching at Massey this year to do my bit to spread the word and educate people about light but in the short term finding the right people is my greatest challenge.”
Brendon Reid, Managing Director, Automation Associates
The Opportunity for 2019: take a look at the Auckland skyline…
“There is a tonne of work out there, look at the Auckland skyline right now. It hasn’t looked like that since 1987. Just because the market is flooded with low level operators touting low level product, it doesn’t mean the end user will shop at the bottom of the barrel. We just have to be slicker at communicating the value of what we are doing.
“Do a good job and provide great service, then provide it over and over again with recurring service models like Domotz. It’s out there – go get it!”
The Challenge for 2019: a world without intermediaries
“I had the term disintermediation explained to me 10 years ago by Rich Green, my favourite AV industry visionary. He explained it as ‘the manufacturer skipping the distributor and integrator and selling direct to the consumer’.
“Fast forward 10 years and that forecast is 100% correct. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) are leading the disintermediation charge. Lighting control is now something you can buy in a box from Google. Access control is something you can buy online from Amazon.
“The age of DIY installation is here, and while the upper level clients don’t have the time or inclination to get involved, there are a hundreds of sparkies who will take a GAFA product and do it for them. Following on from this, our willingness to grab something from GAFA or Ali Express has put pressure on the distributors, so we are seeing situations where more and more products are not in stock and lead times are in the weeks now for most items.
“Lastly, gone are the days where we were advised of a product going end of life in 6 months’ time, with support extending for another few years. Just this week I was told that a product 3 months out of warranty was no longer supported and tech support were not even prepared to speak to us about it. ‘Buy a new one’ they said. Wow.”
James Wilson, Manager, Baycourt Community & Arts Centre
The Opportunity for 2019: more overseas art companies touring nationally
“I think the future is really bright for theatre nationally. We are really starting to believe in ourselves. A lot of art companies used to just do Auckland and Wellington seasons, but now they are touring. Overseas promotors are looking at our touring circuit and thinking the work has been done.”
He puts the credit for this firmly at the door of Creative NZ, “They have made a significant investment in developing a sustainable touring network in New Zealand by appointing and backing Tour-Makers National Touring Agency.
“Whilst Tour-Makers focus is on supporting New Zealand theatre, music and dance, their work on marketing and audience development, tour development and negotiation with venues and festivals has been key in creating a strong circuit that appeals to companies overseas.”
The Challenge for 2019: staff shortages
“We have a great production management team but keeping staff is a challenge forus, and all theatres. Dale Henderson our Production Manager is heavily involved with Skills Active and the efforts to recognise and accredit people’s practical experience. We try and support that kind of apprenticeship approach here and train up our casuals.
“That said, we find people gravitate to Auckland or Wellington, and get tempted by the work available overseas. We just have to watch them go, and then hope that they come back. One of our team is on tour with the Russian Royal Ballet. He’ll be learning a huge amount and we just hope that by offering staff the flexibility to enable them to take these opportunities, that it will foster loyalty and we’ll reap the benefit of their broadened experience.”
James adds that these staff shortages are nothing new but 2019 might bring further challenges, “I recently attended an EVANZ (Entertainment Venues Association of New Zealand) presentation on the new national conference centre with its 3,000 seat theatre.
“Where are they going to find all the technical staff? If they are taken out of the general pool, then things are going to get even tighter in Auckland, and the regions.”
Pato Álvarez, Managing Director, Pato Entertainment
Opportunity for 2019: More artists wanting to tour New Zealand
As with NZ theatre, Pato is finding it easier to attract overseas artists to New Zealand with a line up this year including Bryan Adams, Slayer, Sonorous, The Prodigy, TOTO and Jefferson Starship, Sticky Fingers, Blindspot and Devilskin plus festivals Bay Dreams, One Love, the Disco Summer Series and Soundsplash.
“The industry looks positive to me. There is a lot of new talent and people are supporting all our events and buying tickets.”
Challenge for 2019: Managing expansion
There’s nothing negative on Pato’s radar, with his challenge being expansion overseas, “The global economy can always be a threat, other than that we can’t see any upcoming issues. We have been working hard and keeping our foundation and team in New Zealand strong. This means we can start looking at expanding our business ventures overseas.”
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Lead image courtesy Mandylights from “Green Hippo Maps Vector Lights on the Auckland Harbour Bridge” CX Magazine August 2018.
See also New qualification for New Zealand technicians (CX News – March 2019)
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