Getting on with it

 By Peter Silcock, chief executive, Civil Contractors NZ.

The scale of Labour’s victory in last month’s election will have lasting impacts on us all. Labour has another three years to deliver on its promises and National have been given three years to rebuild its team and culture.

Neither of our major parties should waste any time getting on with the job.

For the first time we have seen MMP deliver what is a good old ‘first past the post’ result, with one pair of hands on the steering wheel. That creates a new dynamic in terms of the expectations on Labour to progress its agenda.

Getting things happening on the ground will be critical as we manage our way through the economic fallout from Covid. It’s that action that the business community wants to see and Labour won’t have any excuses or anywhere to hide if it doesn’t happen.

What we want to see is the promised ‘NZ Upgrade Programme’, ‘Shovel-ready projects’, Provincial Growth Fund Projects (despite NZ First’s departure), and increased investment in water infrastructure come to the construction market in a timely and efficient way. Forget about reviews, committees and more reports.

To present this as a campaign slogan: “Let’s just get on with it”.

If we do somehow manage to get on with the work at hand at last, the biggest challenge for industry will be how to gear up as we head into 2021. How do we make best use of our resources to deliver a record investment without burning our people out?

We often talk about recruiting more people. That is part of the answer. But history shows the way companies survive and thrive in this environment is by working together.

Whether alliances, joint ventures, subcontractors or partnerships, whatever form it takes it is about having a strong team. Like sportspeople, contractors are highly competitive. And like Super Rugby rivals who play together as All Blacks, competing contractors sometimes wind up on the same team when it comes to taking on a bigger challenge or doing something a bit special.

While there’s healthy competition between companies, there are also times when we work together, when we share knowledge, when we tackle difficult issues together, and when we want the perspective of people we trust. People who understand the challenges we’re facing and are passionate about similar things.


Think about how much of your work comes from negotiated rather than tendered work, or where you are invited to tender because you have a good relationship with a client, or you offered a job to someone you know you can trust to deliver on what they promise because they have the right capability, expertise and attitude.

You may not have all the right skills on hand, but knowing someone who does when you need it can help a lot. To use another rugby analogy, you wouldn’t win many lineouts with a team of halfbacks, or many highway tenders without experience in paving.

More and more we see contractors working together, whether it is in formal alliances, as a named subcontractor providing specialist services, or just sharing resources at critical times, for instance through the CivilShare App, which helps people share under-utilised staff or equipment and re-purpose construction waste.

Good teams achieve more together than they could have apart. Think about the Memorial Park Alliance, which secured the contract to build a wharf in the Chatham Islands because it had done a good job on Pukeahu Park and the Arras Tunnel in Wellington.

Even the All Blacks aren’t always successful, as the Wellington Bledisloe test demonstrated. Good relationships are fantastic when everything goes to plan, and critical to a quick recovery in the tough times when someone’s dropped the ball.

Your team is not just about your employees and it isn’t all about formal business structures like alliances. It is about who you can call on for help and it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes – a bit of advice, a supplier doing a rushed delivery of a critical product to your site, the loan of a machine or a few staff with the right skills helping you out of a tight spot.

Effective contractors build and maintain relationships and recognise where and when someone else can help.

Obviously, those relationships need to be within the bounds of competition law, but they are a critical part of the construction industry, where projects require different skills and fluctuating numbers of staff.

One of the key benefits of CCNZ membership is the ability to form relationships and networks with people working in the same industry. CCNZ branches play a key role in creating these networks.

On that note, it has been great to see face to face branch meetings starting again all around the country. Many members say it is only by getting involved that you get the most out of the organisation.

Those who contribute the most are also the ones who learn from other people, and as a result develop their own thoughts and businesses.

Working together is something contractors do every day, something the civil construction industry is very good at.

The CCNZ itself is all about the industry working together on issues impacting the industry regionally or nationally, whether it is advocating for a stronger pipeline of work or working to develop Covid protocols allowing the industry to quickly return to work after lockdown.

Following on from the election, I think we are heading into a time where we will need to work together.

And that’s not a new thing. It’s not because of ideological change or the nature of new projects. It’s because working together is how we can achieve better results.

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