By Dave Heatley 08/07/2019


The right job in the wrong place. For many, that’s the reality of job search in New Zealand’s less populated regions. And regional employers face the flip side – the right worker in the wrong place.

Labour markets are inherently regional because commuting time subtracts from work and leisure time. On average, New Zealander workers spend 40 minutes a day travelling to and from work.1 Few are willing to travel for more than an hour each way, so two towns more than an hour’s travel apart are essentially separate labour markets.

The size of a labour market matters. The larger the town (or city), the more likely it is to have what economists call a “thick” labour market. Labour markets are typically characterised by heterogeneous workers and jobs. Good matches between the skills and talents potential employees have, and the skills and talents employers want, are important for both workers and employers.

From the perspective of a worker, finding a job is easier in a thicker market. Market thickness matters particularly for more specialised skills, as I found out back in 1982.

I was looking for work in Bendigo – a small “city” in regional Australia. I thought my immediately prior jobs – computer programmer and statistician – would make me hot property. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There was precisely zero demand for these skills in Bendigo.

I resorted to picking tomatoes. But the income from a week’s hot back-breaking work barely covered my transport costs. Then I spotted a mysteriously vague job ad. Just one mandatory requirement: the applicant must be over 6 feet tall. I qualified, applied and got the job. For the next six weeks I wore an Easter bunny suit (size XL – hence the mandatory requirement) and handed out Easter eggs to children in a department store. And learnt that my specialised university education and job experience didn’t mean so much in a “thin” labour market.

A single photo remains as evidence…