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As with any regional town, local businesses are the lifeblood of the Lake Wānaka economy.

They each play a vital role, providing essential goods, services as well as critical employment opportunities for local and international workers, enabling our community to thrive.

Pre-COVID, Carmen Blackler discovered that while Wānaka had no shortage of workers, many of them were struggling to find suitable accommodation.

Armed with an engineering background, Carmen decided to put her practical problem-solving skills to use, and set out to find a solution that would bring homeowners and employers together to give Wānaka’s valued workers spaces to call home.

In this blog, we’ll explore how Carmen, inspired by a love for her community and a desire to solve the issue of worker accommodation, founded the Workforce Accommodation Network, helping workers find their place in Lake Wānaka.

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How WAN was born

You could argue bringing power to the people is where Carmen has always thrived. With a background in electrical engineering, her early career was spent in the power system working around New Zealand and our local communities. A keen knack for problem-solving and a desire to solve social problems through technology, Carmen’s true lightbulb moment came as a Wānaka local, seeing Wānaka accommodation struggle to keep up with the influx of new workers.

“Without workers, businesses don’t survive and without businesses, our economy doesn’t survive’’ says Carmen.

Here, Carmen saw an opportunity to introduce a practical solution and with this, the Workforce Accommodation Network was born.

“The Workforce Accommodation Network (WAN) is all about making businesses part of the conversation’’, she says. An online marketplace, connecting workers to safe, reliable seasonal housing and accommodation, while making use of the capacity Wānaka has to house those who contribute to its economy. At the heart of the WAN exists three core pillars: create sustainable communities, improve the health of people and place and to increase the utilisation of existing infrastructure. Where they differ though, is in the way they engage businesses to be part of this change.

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Why?

By having businesses register, create profiles for their workers and drive this change collectively, Carmen instills two of the values we hold dear in Lake Wānaka, Whanui (Community) and Mahi Tahi (Collaboration). What better way to live these, than to show newcomers this act of care and compassion from the outset; that they aren’t alone on their journey here, but are valued guests that we have a responsibility to welcome and integrate. This Manaakitanga (hospitality) has been a pillar of Māori culture and is something Wānaka, and our community strives to uphold. 

While COVID and tourism restrictions certainly amplified the issue of worker shortages, for Carmen, it also highlighted that international workers weren’t the only ones Wānaka depended on. Horticulture, building, hospitality; numerous industries rely on flexible or seasonal workers and the capacity to accommodate them. With an estimated 10% of our national workforce moving around for seasonal work to where their skills are required, the ability to find roots, particularly for temporary migrants and those with dependents, is challenging. 

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Creating stable communities

Carmen views the ability for those seeking work in New Zealand to connect with locals, live with them or be assisted into reliable housing as key to the assimilation that helps people to truly feel at home. Here, Carmen and her team discovered the true necessity of the WAN and set about to engage Wānaka businesses and the community.

While accommodation is central to her efforts, Carmen sees the platform as working to create stable communities. As an accommodator, you can help local businesses and workers with the promise of stability; something integral to the Wānaka community and the lives of its inhabitants thriving. Businesses like Cardrona, Treble Cone, local orchards and smaller 1-2 staff organisations have all found value in the WAN to date, showing a widespread need across the board for businesses of any size. Growing the range of accommodation these businesses can offer to their staff who are seeking seasonal employment also brings more choice to new workers, broadening the appeal of the marketplace.

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Physiotherapist in action

“We are guardians of both people and place,” says Carmen, “and leaving people in a better place than when we started has high value.”

As we move to into the  future with a regenerative mindset, we ask ourselves;

“What do we really mean by this, and what will it look like when we have achieved it?”

Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget that nature is so much more than the scenery that welcomes our visitors/manuhiri; and we have to remind ourselves that it’s an intricate web made up of  both people and place.

The WAN is a great example of how to practice this in business, embracing Whanaungataka – one together, building reciprocal relationships which are valued, strong and enduring. This weaves us together as whānui and enables a productive and thriving visitor economy.

If you’re a homeowner, a business or a worker looking for a place to live, register with WAN here.

#lovewānaka