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Now is the time for exponential growth

PETER BENFELL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CONNEXIS

ALMOST THREE YEARS since the launch of Civil Trades, the nationally recognised accreditation programme for civil contractors in New Zealand we find ourselves at a tipping point.

From that landmark moment in December 2015, we have continued to grow awareness, engagement and, crucially, participation in Civil Trades Certification (CTC), to the point we are now poised for an explosion of exponential growth.

To light that fuse however, we must be vigilant, never resting on our laurels. We must continue to ensure the training, support and pathways we are offering are both fit for purpose and accessible to the right people.

Growth and engagement

Before we address the challenges that lie ahead, let’s take a moment to look back and appreciate how far we’ve come. As of April 2017, we had 25 workers registered to complete their Civil Trades, as of July this year we had well over 200.

Towards the end of 2017, we were seeing eight to 10 registrations for CTC per month. In June that number was 45.

To see that momentum grow has been hugely gratifying, and a good deal of credit for it must go to the workers themselves. They all represent the best advertising we could wish for on the benefits of achieving CTC.

Not only do their co-workers see those certified being recognised for their skills, they see those workers taking an increasing pride in their achievements and their work.

Where once a worker may have been known within their workplace for their good technical skills, now they are nationally recognised for being good in all aspects of the business, from management and reporting to health and safety.

The effect is not just an improvement in individuals or businesses, but a quantifiable raising of the skill level across an entire industry.

Pipeline maintenance and expansion

As is fitting for the civil works sector, we have often talked about this growth and skills improvement as a talent pipeline. Like all pipelines it needs constant maintenance to allow it to be expanded.

The first challenge in extending that pipeline is making sure employers are connected with talented, motivated and interested job seekers.

To find those workers we must compete with other sectors, such as construction, also battling skills shortages, but which have a much stronger tradition of structured apprenticeships. We must also compete with tertiary education providers and other technical professions which offer financially rewarding career paths.

To that end, our Transition to Work pre-employment programmes aimed at upskilling workers with no previous industry experience, have been extremely successful in helping staff large scale projects.

Additionally, we have been working hard in schools and on nationwide roadshows showcasing the civil industry, with emphasis on how the Gateway Apprenticeship programme can lead school leavers on to an apprenticeship and then Civil Trades Certification.

Combined, these training steps place our career pathways on par with those long offered in other trades.

But it is not enough to rest there. We have also spent much of this year developing and refining a new suite of qualifications. These will ensure our apprenticeship model is effectively structured, making sure it encompasses all the assessments, mentoring, support and technical training our apprentices require.

Look for more detail on what this new programme will entail as we near the October launch date.

Looking to diversity

Another way to improve the skills deficit is to embrace the gender imbalance which has long been part of the civil sector’s employment landscape.

It has been thrilling to see the way so many of our businesses are recognising the benefits of making sure they are talking to as many young women as young men when it comes to recruitment and finding trainees.

Not just because when you’re battling a skills shortage it makes no sense to ignore half the population, but also because increasingly businesses realise the diversity of employees bring the diversity of ideas, talent and problem solving.

The most obvious indicator of this movement was in the pleasing increase in the number of civil sector business that signed up for our annual Girls with Hi-Vis campaign, which aims to address the gender imbalance in infrastructure by offering women a hands-on experience of the different jobs and aspects of an industry they may not have ever previously considered.

Onward and upward

In December this year, the first workers who achieved their Civil Trades Certification, will find their certification registration up for renewal. It represents another landmark moment in our three-year journey since the CTC launch in 2015.

It’s a good moment to acknowledge how far we’ve come, while recognising the journey never ends. Our emphasis now is the evolution to ensure we have the talent and numbers behind us to hit those infrastructure targets, resolve that skills shortage and create a thriving industry people want to be a part of.

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