Snow groomer operators are one of hundreds of skilled roles that ski area bosses must fulfill.
The snow industry is pushing for immigration changes as it struggles to bring in hundreds of skilled workers ahead of the ski season.
Industry bosses are hoping for a bumper season as borders reopen after a disastrous 2021, when the trans-Tasman bubble burst, and a domestic-only 2020.
However, they say this could be hampered by a lack of experienced staff if they cannot bring the people they need into the country.
Ski area operators and Tourism New Zealand have jointly argued for a class exemption while rental and retail shop owners are calling for the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) to be brought forward.
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Southland MP Joseph Mooney has written to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi asking for urgent action on the visa.
“People’s lives and livelihoods depend on it,” he said.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has announced that thousands of migrants on temporary work visas will be fast-tracked for residency after a major change in immigration policy. (First published September 30.)
The application process is expected to open in July, and there would be a delay in processing applications, making it too late for the ski season.
Thom Beatson and Tori Shankster said they were between 15 and 20 workers short at The Snowboard Workshop, their ski and snowboard hire shop based in Queenstown.
The majority are technicians and rental and retail staff giving expert advice, Beatson said.
“Our main concern is that we use heavy machinery and install people who descend at 60 km/h, so safety is paramount for our customers and our staff.”
Last year, the couple did most of the work with key staff members and burned out.
“We really don’t want this to happen again,” Beatson said.
There are about eight businesses in the Southern Lakes region facing similar issues, including Alta Queenstown.
Owner Aaron Fernandez said there was a major security element to the job and that there needed to be enough staff to be open for long hours – usually between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. during peak season.
Asking for exemptions for critical workers meant paying 1.5 times the median wage, and that exceeded most retail outlets, he said.
A North American couple who had previously worked at the boutique wanted to do so again, and Fernandez hoped to bring them over.
“They want to come here and be part of the industry. They come for the lifestyle and are happy to have a fair wage.
Cardrona and Treble Cone Ski Areas General Manager Laura Hedley led the joint application by the Ski Areas Association NZ and Tourism NZ for a class exemption for around 250 ski-specific roles.
They were snow groomer operators, experienced snow safety employees and patrollers, many of whom are based overseas and work back-to-back winters.
It was particularly difficult for smaller club grounds to fill the critical roles, she said.
The industry hopes to have a response to their request by mid-April.
If unsuccessful, it will have to review individual applications for critical worker visas, which could limit what can be safely opened during the season.
Granting accredited worker visas would help fill hospitality roles, including chefs, cleaning and housekeeping, Hedley said, with the snow industry having to compete with hotels and restaurants for such employees. .
“These are the ones everyone needs.”