Civil construction’s big challenge for 2021

Peter Silcock, chief executive, Civil Contractors NZ.

For many months now, the CCNZ has been asking central and local government to get on with things and bring work to market.

This includes work from the NZ Upgrade Programme, shovel-ready projects, water network upgrades and major transport overhauls.

It’s fair to say if (or when) all this work comes to market, our biggest challenge will be people, capability and capacity. We have a lot of work to do. Without the ability to recruit from offshore at any sort of scale, it will be tough to ramp up quickly.

Civil construction companies are already busy and finding it difficult to recruit people. If we are asked to ramp up further, the biggest challenge is how quickly we can take on new people and give them the skills they need to do a good job.

If we have the right systems in place, we can train plant operators over a period of months. But it obviously takes longer if we need civil engineers or other specialists.

From the biggest challenges arise the biggest opportunities. While the pandemic and its associated lockdowns caused major challenges through 2020, it also means we now have a different type of job seeker following Covid-19, with tourism and hospitality workers looking for a job.

Many of these people may already have a strong work ethic and good communication skills. Many of these workers also have employable skills such as health and safety management, people management, abseiling or the ability to drive heavy vehicles.

 Quality people equals quality infrastructure

People entering civil construction from another industry require further training to come up to speed and to be safe on site.

If we can recognise their existing skills and prepare the ground for them to enter the industry, we stand a better chance of making the most of their talents.

We’re having this discussion at a lot of different levels. From branch meetings and Reform of Vocational Education working groups to discussions with government agencies, the Construction Sector Accord and other organisations.

The CCNZ is working hard on all elements, starting with the industry’s EPIC Careers in Infrastructure career promotion, which aims to inspire people to take up the civil trades. EPIC is not about sugar-coating the reality of the hard work that needs to be done, it’s about inspiring the right people with opportunities. The ‘hook’ is presenting the great things that the industry and your business can offer.

Using the EPIC campaign is a great way to get people interested, but it’s not an end-point. Inspiring people to join the industry is one thing, but what we do with them once they are inspired is quite another.

We know employers are already working hard and being innovative in how they onboard and upskill their people, and the CCNZ is in the early stages of a stocktake and gaps analysis of pre-trades training that focuses on how skills are delivered to people.

A clear entry point to the civil trades

 It’s already clear we need better and more consistent channels to take on Kiwi career seekers, from start to finish. Apprenticeships are something everybody understands, from career seekers to government, and we’re competing for the same talent which other industries with have established apprenticeship intakes.

And with free apprenticeship funding from Government, apprenticeships seem an ideal way for businesses looking to attract and retain passionate and enthusiastic people who are looking to forge ahead with a career in civil construction.

In 2015, the CCNZ created Civil Trades certification as an industry-owned apprenticeship certification on the premise that quality people equal quality infrastructure.

The majority of the more than 500 (so far) civil tradespeople have obtained certification through recognition of current competence. These people are swiftly gaining recognition as the master craftspeople of the industry in much the same way as everybody knows what a master plumber, builder or electrician is.

Now is the time for employers to be hiring people as civil trades apprentices and building career progression into their businesses.

This is not just about accessing free government funding, but also about promoting clear career pathways that everybody understands.

In this way, we can inspire people who are committed to building their skills to choose civil as their career for the long term.


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