Loving Livin’ in Southland: The quest to fill job vacancies in deep south

For Steve Grieve, it took leaving Southland to fully appreciate just what makes it such a good place to live.

For the past four and half years Grieve has been the manager, and a part-owner, of the Speight’s Ale House at Addington, Christchurch.

During that time he commuted between Invercargill and Christchurch. That, however, is about to end.

Grieve had moved to Christchurch to help his partner and their children get financially ahead in life. Every four to six weeks he travelled to Invercargill to be with them – partner Nadia Steedman and children Maxzara, Madison and Estella.

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Steve Grieve is returning to Invercargill after accepting a job to run the Northern Tavern.

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Steve Grieve is returning to Invercargill after accepting a job to run the Northern Tavern.

He’s been appointed as the manager of the Northern Tavern, starting on May 2, taking over from Edgar Potter who held the role for 25 years.

Grieve will retain his ownership in the Christchurch restaurant but said it was time for him to return home to Invercargill.

“A lot of good stuff happens in Invercargill and you don’t really realise it until you go away from it.”

He likes the outdoor leisure found in Southland, such as trips to beaches and surfing. Being able to drive from Invercargill to Queenstown and Dunedin within two and a half hours also appealed to him.

Bringing Southlanders home and attracting newbies has been viewed as vital for the province’s business sector which was struggling to fill staff vacancies at the moment.

Great Southland business and strategic projects general manager Steve Canny described the current worker shortage as the biggest single strategic issue for Southland businesses, and he added it had been for some time.

Canny said data showed, for the past two to three years, each week 700 to 1000 Southland jobs were being advertised.

Agriculture and trade-related services provided most of the job vacancies, Canny said, followed by transportation logistics and healthcare.

“There is a tremendous range of jobs and opportunities down here. There’s no question about that,” Canny said.

“We do have an ageing population and with an ageing population means, we are going to have many more jobs available.”

Canny acknowledged there were challenges when it came to businesses enticing people to Southland to live. Although the one thing he constantly heard was when people did make the shift and got involved living in the Southland community, they loved it.

He said there were various reasons why Southland was such a great place to live, including housing affordability and the shorter commute to different activities.

“If you can remove a lot of your mortgage debt and come to a place where you don’t have to spend half of your life in a vehicle travelling, it would have to be fairly compelling.”

While housing affordability was an attraction, Southland did have some housing supply constraints in the quest to keep job vacancies filled.

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Stefan Haig shifted from Christchurch to Invercargill to run a branch for his employer Harrison Bloy Plumbing Plus in 2020. He loves living in Southland.

For Stefan and Rebecca Haig the shift from Christchurch to Invercargill has been beneficial both for work and lifestyle for their family.

In 2020, Stefan accepted a transfer from his employer, Harrison Bloy Plumbing Plus, to open and manage a branch.

“I just love it [here],” Stefan said.

“We’re an outdoorsy family … we can be fishing on the Oreti River in two minutes from where we live [at Otatara].”

Being a short drive to most things, unlike in Christchurch, was good, he added.

Hunting and getting back into surfing at Riverton and Colac Bay are other leisure time pursuits of Stefan. Rebecca, who grew up in Mataura, is playing hockey in the town. She represented New Zealand in under-18 women’s hockey.

The couple and their children, Jackson, 13, Ruby, 11, and Cooper, 7, spend time at Rebecca’s parents’ bach at Riverton and make trips to Te Anau occasionally.

“There’s plenty more exploring to do, like getting over to Stewart Island,” Stefan said.

He and Rebecca achieved a goal when they bought a home and 0.809 hectares (two acres) in Otatara. They run a few sheep and chickens on the property.

“We wanted a little bit of land, and we’ve done that now,” Stefan said.

Any negative comments about Southland, he won’t listen to.

“I certainly stick up for Invercargill and Southland.”

“When settling in here [Invercargill] it was better than I thought it would be. The people down here are a good strong loyal bunch.”

Beth and Amy Duffill-Brookes on their wedding day at Monkey Island on January 1, 2018.


Beth and Amy Duffill-Brookes on their wedding day at Monkey Island on January 1, 2018.

Couple Beth and Amy Duffill-Brookes said it’s the people in the south was the reason they now proudly called Southland home after moving from Somerset, England in 2017.

Beth, a Ministry of Primary Industries vet, said what she loved about Southlanders was when you started a conversation with someone you didn’t know, they never started with asking what your job was.

“They’re always asking you what you’re doing on the weekend or what are you into,” she said.

Amy, a Department of Conservation ranger, said the attitude stumped the couple initially, as they were used to the UK, where it was still quite class-based and people wanted to know where you went to school and your job title and what car you drove and so on.

The couple married at Monkey Island on January 1, 2018.

When they first arrived, they made a pact to find any club, group, or society that vaguely interested them and attend at least twice to make a true effort.

“We found that Invercargill was just the most welcoming place ever,” Amy said.

Amy thought it was funny how Invercargill got such a bad rap when it was the perfect place to be, especially for people who loved the outdoors and adventures.

“Because you’re halfway between Fiordland and the Catlins … whatever your thing is that you like, is less than two hours drive.

“So, whether it’s lakes, or mountains or coast or Fiordland or whatever, it’s less than two hours in any direction … so it’s real cool,” Amy said.

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Bridget Forsyth moved to Invercargill to work for the Cancer Society in 2015 from Dunedin. Southland has become her home and she has no plans to leave anytime soon.

Bridget Forsyth moved to Invercargill from Dunedin in 2015 and doesn’t have any plans to move anytime soon.

Forsyth came south to work as the Cancer Society Otago-Southland health promoter and said it took her about two years to settle.

“I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have any previous relationships to build on. And I was totally alone. I wasn’t moving here with a partner or children or anything,” she said.

So, she threw herself into joining various community groups and volunteering at South Alive to learn more and build connections.

She was now part of a community choir, a book club, a raranga (weaving) group and more.

“I ended up helping to start a charity [Chroma] with my miraculous free time,” Forsyth said.

“I’m able to be useful here. I’m grateful that I have a house, I don’t think I would be able to in other cities … the fact that I was able to buy my house on my wage.”

Canny said Great South was supporting businesses through the recruitment process to help them put their best foot when trying to fill the vacancies.

Although said much of the work being done at the moment to fill shortages has tended to be industry-led.

“The key thing is actually having the employers totally engaged in the recruitment process and supported by organisations such as ours.”