Year on year, the civil construction industry has faced a shortage of skilled workers. Last month a new report on entering the civil infrastructure construction workforce was published by Civil Contractors NZ that sets out to tackle that challenge.
Titled Developing a Skilled Civil Construction Workforce, this 67-page report explores the challenges and solutions the construction industry faces today in attracting new entrants and developing them into skilled civil tradespeople.
CCNZ chief executive Alan Pollard says the worker shortage has been exacerbated by limited connection to schools, a lack of support for work-ready training and induction, and a high cost of training with a limited supply of trainers.
The report’s focus on supporting new entrants is an issue of prime importance for an industry employing up to 60,000 kiwis in constructing our roads, water networks, airports and other essential infrastructure, iterates Pollard.
“Civil construction is a vitally important industry, offering lucrative and rewarding work. But as an industry, we are currently running small-scale programmes to onboard and upskill people, with little co-ordination and a lack of connection with the education system.
“The report findings will enable the industry to take a lead role in addressing the challenges and opportunities in bringing new people into the industry, as well as better upskilling workers and working more closely with partners in education and government.”
The report explores many successful existing programmes that can be shared with the industry. “The Government’s work with industry through the Construction Skills Action Plan, MSD, Regional Skills Hubs, and Te Puni Kokiri funded projects have made a big difference,” says Pollard.
“These are great programmes, and we need more of them to tie in with industry and prepare people for success when starting work and ready them for the jobs they are going into.”
There are also examples in action that need to be ramped up, such as the Infrastructure Skills Centre, which is a key example of a Government funded industry-led intake pilot programme that has resulted in very good outcomes for those on the course, adds Pollard.
To make the most of the opportunity for change, the industry and its partners will need to embrace new ways of working, including recognition of supervisory staff as on-job trainers, maturing the apprenticeship system for civil construction, delivery of more practical on-job skills prior to employment, funding for appropriate industry-specific training, and a readily available description of the career pathway and the skills needed.
Fraser May, communications and advocacy manager at CCNZ points out that contractors are being asked to drastically increase the intake of workers at a time when accessing skilled migrant labour is difficult.
“The skill, knowledge and expectations gaps between when people want to be employed and when they become employable is clear to anyone that has worked to onboard people into civil infrastructure construction roles,” he says.
The Developing a Skilled Civil Construction Workforce report puts the primary focus on how people enter the civil trades workforce and develop in these roles as a civil construction trades pathway, he says. “This is a significant bottleneck for people entering the workforce. The focus is on trades roles as the civil engineering entry pathway is currently serviced by tertiary education.”
Entry level training outside of civil construction companies has been happening in isolation, and not at scale, he adds. “Any training was largely being delivered to fill a social need, such as helping beneficiaries join the workforce, rather than as an entry point connected with school leavers or others who might join the workforce voluntarily. Because of this the cost of training was falling on civil construction companies who were effectively acting as a school for new entrant workers, while any effective entry-level training and development programmes would often be undermined by project cost pressures.”
Existing Civil Trades exists as an established industry trade certification, while Infrastructure Works qualifications exist to help people get qualified on the job.
“This report seeks to clarify what civil construction needs from an entry-level employee and what training is suitable for new entrant workers so their initial training can be streamlined.
At the beginning of 2021 the CCNZ initiated this Civil Workforce Forum research project, supported by the MSD and the MBIE, as both agencies have a role in helping industries get the workers they need, and both have been investing in programmes and regional skills hubs to prepare people for work, says May.
Each ministry contributed $25,000 to the research, part-funding the project to the tune of $50,000. CCNZ managed the operations of the project, contributing staff time via a secondment and resourcing the project.
Research was carried out between April and December 2021, followed by the writing and circulation of the draft report prior to publication.
CCNZ resourced the project with staff members, says May, who were made available for site visits with members. “The discussion focused on what companies required from new entrant workers and how these people were supported to join the industry.”
The research was conducted in several ways, including visits to training sites, a half-day workshop, video conference calls, a session at CCNZ conference and written questions.
“This approach centred on challenging assumptions around how new staff joined companies, what the requirements were for new staff to enter, and what company training was provided for new entrants.”
What the report hopes to achieve
The research sets out to deliver the following, says May.
* A stocktake of current workforce entry points and the training available to people who want to join the industry, to provide clarity and transparency for industry, government and career seekers around available training.
* An industry agreed position on the skills required for both entry level and pre-apprentice levels. This will assist industry entrants and training providers.
* A statement on the industry’s appetite for supporting well-resourced training and development hubs that are used by all key industry members (including large companies, private trainers and SME’s).
* More consistent training, which better meets the needs of the industry, for people entering the workforce or considering a civil apprenticeship.
* A clearer pathway from entry level to the Civil Trades Apprenticeships.
* A survey of social procurement across local and central government contractors.
* A feasibility test of the creation of an ongoing Workforce Development Manager (see side story) position within CCNZ, who would act on the findings of the project to coordinate the workforce intake needs of the civil construction sector on an ongoing basis, interfacing between government and industry.
The end target
“The report provides a rallying call for industry to get behind shared training initiatives that can reduce the cost of onboarding and upskilling people,” says May.
“It also aims to provide government with insight into an industry that is not well recognised by the general public and is at present largely disconnected from the school and tertiary education system, and is aimed at those who can work to address the gap between when people want to work and when industry considers new entrants work-ready.”
May says the association is already progressing the report’s recommendations. “These include hiring a Workforce Development manager, as well as templating existing programmes that are functioning well at a small scale and can be ramped up, such as programmes that enable school leavers to gain work experience.
“The next step will be establishing a Civil Construction Workforce Development Strategy, which CCNZ hopes to release mid-2022.”
New CCNZ role for Workforce Development
Civil Contractors New Zealand has appointed Rebecca Fox as its new Workforce Development manager, in a full-time role starting 23 May.
Rebecca has extensive experience in civil construction workforce development, most recently through her work supporting companies to embed training in their businesses as a customer service account manager for Connexis.
She also brings experience in local government to the organisation having served a term as a councillor in the Greytown Ward for the South Wairarapa District Council; a role she will step down from when her term concludes later this year so she can focus on the workforce development role.
This important new role will centre around designing and implementing a Civil Construction Workforce Development Strategy. This work will encompass Civil Trades certification, linking CCNZ’s EPIC Work careers promotion with opportunities for training and employment, and other pivotal workforce development initiatives.