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Auckland Airport's job skills hub extended to other local companies

Thursday 20th October 2016

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Auckland International Airport says other companies operating near the airport have joined ARA, its job skills and education hub designed to source skilled labour during the current construction boom.

The programme, set up late last year in partnership with central and local government, construction companies and sub-contractors, has provided training opportunities for 1,000 people and placed 135 people into jobs, mostly with the airport. Of those, 123 came from the south Auckland area and 63 came off a social welfare benefit. ARA has also registered 23 new apprenticeships.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in Auckland today that the programme has been so successful that other companies, including wine company Villa Maria and airline catering company LSG, have recently joined to help resolve their own shortages of skilled labour.

The idea came out of planning for the airport’s pipeline of expansion over the next decade, with capital expenditure for the 2017 financial year expected to be the highest in a decade at between $330 million and $370 million. That level of capital expenditure is expected to continue for several years, Littlewood said. 

Key infrastructure projects this financial year include the upgrade of the international terminal departure area, which will significantly expand the airport’s core processing and retail and duty-free areas, with work also starting on the extension of the international terminal Pier B to add an additional 10,000 square metres of footprint, gates, and air bridges.

In August, Littlewood said competition for labour and resources due to the city's construction boom means the cost of major capital projects may be higher than originally planned. Today he said the airport and its construction partners also recognised sourcing labour would be a critical issue but there was a paradox between the airport and its partners struggling to find the workers they need while many people in their south Auckland neighbourhood remained unemployed.

They looked at overseas examples of employment projects including at Bangaroo, the inner city development in Sydney, and decided to train people for specific tasks they’d need for the jobs available, rather than putting through them year-long training courses for a variety of skills.

ARA had some initial funding from the Ministry of Social Development to kick it off and Littlewood said it has been important that it delivered both social and commercial outcomes. “You don’t want it to be the ceo’s latest idea that falls over when that person leaves,” he said.

Shareholders also raised questions on public transport to and from the airport to the city, an increase in bussing of passengers from planes, along with passengers’ problems with wi-fi connections and lack of phone charging stations at the airport.

Littlewood said public transport concerns were behind its involvement in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which had identified light rail as the preferred public transport option to the airport, but did not set a date on when it might be delivered. Rapid bus transport was more likely to come first, though Littlewood said he couldn’t put a timeframe on it.

Increased passenger growth of 9 percent in the past year to 17.3 million had caused a rise in the number of passengers being bussed from their planes to the terminal – from an average two percent to five percent, Littlewood said. But this was still low by international standards, with some airports bussing around half their passengers.

The expansion to the international terminal's Pier B would help alleviate the problem but “bussing will not go away,” he said. “It’s part of every large international airport.”

Littlewood said he’s also approved upgrading the airport’s wi-fi services and equipment so passengers can more easily connect and the terminal upgrade includes a big increase in power plugs that can be used for phone charging.

A requested 2.5 percent increase in directors’ remuneration, lifting the total pool by $36,650 to $1.466 million raised little objection from shareholders.

The increase lifts chair Sir Henry van der Heyden’s pay to $250,000 a year from $243,286, while other directors will now get paid $116,00 a year from $113,918 previously.

Director Richard Didsbury, who had planned to retire this year, will now stay on until the 2017 annual meeting because of the company’s current investment focus on aeronautical and property infrastructure.

Auckland Airport’s shares are trading at $6.54, and are up 32 percent over the past year.

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