Careers advice

What should NZ job hunters expect from 2021?

A panel of experts provide their thoughts on how the NZ job market will look in 2021.

None of us need reminding of what 2020 meant for jobs and the economy in New Zealand. However, by the end of December, many industries and employers were starting to see significant changes for the positive.

There’s no doubt that we’re still in very uncertain times, and this can make applying for jobs a lot harder than usual. So, to try and get to grips with what 2021 might mean for employment opportunities in NZ, we’ve assembled an expert panel to give their insights and predictions.

This panel consists of Adam Gibson (AUS/NZ Development Manager at RobLawMax Recruitment), Adam Shapley (Managing Director of Hays Recruitment) and Jeremy Wade (Head of Jobs here at Trade Me). Here’s what they had to say.

What should job hunters expect from the NZ employment market in 2021?

All three of our panelists are quick to acknowledge that COVID hasn’t had one, singular impact on all Kiwi businesses – different sectors were hit to different degrees.

“In 2021, job hunters should expect to see more of the same from the last few months," says Adam G. This sentiment is echoed by Jeremy: “If you’re in a category that’s still talent short – like IT and construction – your skills are in really high demand. But there are still certain categories which have more of a candidate surplus, like hospo and tourism, where things remain tougher,” he says.

Similarly, Adam S comments that he’s seen a marked increase in business confidence from January, especially in the IT and construction sectors, where “demand from businesses is higher than it was this time last year.” Hays Recruitment is also seeing significant demand for employees in marketing, sales and government roles, he says.

Adam G sums up the panel's overarching predictions: “There’s a lot more positivity coming into 2021, there’s no doubt about it. But, if people think 2021 is going to be like 2019, I think they’ve got a reality check coming.”

IT, along with construction, are two sectors predicted to continue to do well in 2021.

How has COVID impacted the process of getting a job?

“We’ve been lucky in New Zealand, so far, in that businesses haven’t had to change dramatically from what they were doing before,” says Adam S. He does, however, point to the more common use of video technology in the hiring process. He says this technology has become particularly common for recruitment agencies as a way of signing up job hunters.

Similarly, the forced adoption of video technologies means that many businesses are now more likely to engage with candidates who can’t travel for video interviews, Jeremy tells us. However, he emphasises that most businesses still prefer to meet candidates in person, wherever possible.

On top of tech adoption, Adam G, says that job hunters may experience slightly slower hiring processes, as some businesses remain more cautious of expanding their headcount in these uncertain times. “But when businesses do find the right person, it can get very competitive between companies,” he says. He’s seen instances of companies making counter offers, and businesses trying to retain staff, which could lead to more generalised salary increases.

Could the Government permit entry to skilled migrants before the border opens to everyone?

Here, the panel is united in believing that this is an unlikely move, especially in the near future.

“I think they should...otherwise, we could risk ending up with a catastrophic skills shortage in New Zealand,” says Adam S, “but, ultimately, border exemptions are very hard to get.”

Both Jeremy and Adam G believe the November 2020 exemption made for fruit pickers is unlikely to be repeated in other sectors. In that instance, the move was made because the orchards would have been very difficult to restart if they were forced to shut down, and because many Kiwi jobs were at risk in industries that support the fruit harvest, explains Jeremy.

Our experts think it's unlikely that future exemptions like the one seen for fruit pickers, will be made for other sectors.

When the borders do re-open, what will be the immediate impact?

“There are two key factors that are different from pre-COVID times, says Jeremy. “One is the economic recovery and concern about job creation, and the other is that New Zealand First are no longer in government, and they were obviously banging a certain immigration drum.”

Jeremy says it’s hard to predict exactly what stance Labour will take on immigration, but that he’d expect them to look first at essential categories that can help NZ generate economic growth, while being very mindful of trying to address our problems through domestic employment.”

Adam G highlights how the return of highly skilled labour from overseas will likely lead to salary increases, as businesses compete to attract the highest level of expertise.

For Adam S, the prospect of the borders reopening shouldn’t be too great a concern for Kiwis currently job hunting, “If you look at unemployment rates, it’s under 5%, so you’ve almost got full employment. I don’t think a big influx of skilled people will mean there are lots of Kiwis that will lose out. Ultimately, there are more jobs than people looking for those jobs,” he says.

Do you predict any changes in which sectors will perform badly or well as a result of COVID, compared to what we’ve seen so far?

“If we continue the way we’re going at the moment, I think we’ll see quite a smooth trajectory. But if the strains we have in New Zealand keep changing, that creates more uncertainty,” says Adam G.

He notes that RobLawMax Recruitment has seen significant numbers of Kiwis move away from hard hit industries like hospo and tourism, to take up government training initiatives in construction and the trades. He believes that those sectors that took the brunt of the COVID fallout will continue to see challenges in 2021, while those sectors that performed relatively well, will likely continue to do so.

Adam S sees things similarly. “E-commerce and digital organisations are going to continue to grow and see opportunities open up...while, if the borders remain closed, tourism has a cap on its opportunities, so that’s a real challenge for that sector.”


Government training and apprenticeship initiatives have seen significant uptake.

What would be your advice to someone who’s been struggling for a while to find work?

The panel has some great tips for job hunters in New Zealand who are struggling to find work.

“Looking after your mental and physical health when job hunting is the priority,” says Adam S. Beyond that, he highlights the importance of being flexible in terms of your location, salary and industry. He says his team have helped plenty of Kiwis switch careers recently, and advises Kiwis to “assess your skills, and look at where they might be useful.” Travel sector staff, who often have great people skills, and therefore can transition easily into a variety of other roles, such as sales, are one example.

Adam G echoes the importance of being open to new opportunities, but also emphasises perseverance and taking advantage of the help that’s out there. “Training initiatives are one of the best things to come out of the pandemic, but also look at the professional services when it comes to writing a professional CV, cover letter or preparing for an interview. The more prepared you can be, the better the opportunity you have.”

Jeremy believes one of the toughest things when you’re continually missing out is working out why that is, especially when businesses don’t provide feedback. His key message, therefore, is seeking advice. He recommends talking to those already in employment, recruitment agencies and accessing government support from resources like the Ministry of Social Development.

Is now a good time to change jobs, or should people lucky enough to have kept their jobs just sit tight?

You’ve got to play the cards in front of you,” says Adam G, “If it’s a good opportunity, then there’s no time like the present. If you want to take a risk and move to a startup, then I’d be cautious and understand what the short to medium term risks are.”

Jeremy agrees. He says that, while uncertainty is still there in the background, overall there’s more confidence, and businesses have learnt how to deal better with COVID. “Overall, people should feel braver to look for opportunities, with exceptions for those in industries that are more likely to take another hit if we experience more outbreaks”.

Adam S cautions: “It’s industry specific. If you’re hanging on to a role in the travel and tourism space, I wouldn’t be urging you to look for other jobs in your area. But, there are lots of industries that are doing well. If your organisation is hiring and growing, it probably means their competitors are as well.”