In a year of change, homing in on opportunities and keeping our customers at the forefront is how we, at Connexis, hope to bring benefits to our industries within a vocational educational system currently under design. By Kaarin Guakrodger, Chief Executive, Connexis.
This year promises to be an important one for our future and the future of workforce skills and comes amid a period of unprecedented demand for Civil training and apprenticeships.
By keeping the needs of the infrastructure industry at the heart of our plans for the year ahead we hope to deliver continued growth, improvements and steer a course through this period of transition to the advantage of our customers and learners.
Demand for civil industry training at an all-time high
There has never been a busier time for Civil training in New Zealand. Low interest rates and a move to modernise our infrastructure and grow the economy led the Government to announce $12 billion for the New Zealand Upgrade Programme in January 2020, $6.8 billion of that in transport. This came in conjunction with changes to procurement practices, placing emphasis on a broader approach to outcomes and a focus on public value and increasing sector skills.
The pandemic hit and the Government pumped a further $3 billion into shovel-ready infrastructure projects, along with a stimulus package from the provincial growth fund. The concurrent investment was put into industry training with the release of the Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF), aka Free Trades Training, along with the Apprenticeship Boost wage subsidy scheme.
Across New Zealand, companies with a reliance on migrant workers were significantly impacted as our borders closed and the importance of growing a sustainable skilled workforce became prevalent.
Our infrastructure companies have been active in taking advantage of the opportunities to get their workforce skilled up and recognised through national qualifications during this time. The result has been positive for industry training, with Civil Infrastructure apprenticeship numbers doubling in 2020.
As we continue to experience unprecedented growth in trainees, we launch into a once in a generation reform that will see a considerable change to the way we approach industry training, with the aim to have greater flexibility in delivery and increased accessibility across the country.
Improving service, retaining expertise amidst reforms
RoVE aims to create a unified system for delivering vocational education and training with the goal of giving industry a stronger voice to plug regional skills gaps, better meet workforce needs, and provide a greater focus on work-based training.
The Government’s reform will see industry training organisations, of which Connexis is one, disestablished and replaced by Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) and a national vocational and education training organisation called Te Pukenga.
Connexis has chosen to be an active participant in RoVE, to leverage the opportunities for our industries and work with the new establishments to ensure they best serve our customers, learners and industry needs.
We are not taking our foot off the gas throughout the transition process and are committed to maintaining the momentum of improvements to infrastructure industry training. This includes undertaking projects to provide a seamless transition to our trainees and customers; and to ensure the skills and expertise of our people are retained, including our staff, assessors, and providers.
We are listening to the needs of our customers and industry stakeholders and ensuring these needs are feeding into our decisions as we move through this transformation.
We are also encouraging our infrastructure community to have their say in the development of significant elements of the new unified system as opportunities for consultation and involvement present themselves.
Increasing service capacity and removing barriers to learning
With all the change that RoVE brings, we are equally committed to continuing the momentum of improvement to our services and we continue to invest in our Civil qualifications and programmes.
The steep rise in trainees has led us to build capacity, especially in regions that have seen the biggest growth. We were also happy to launch an online package for Infrastructure Works Level 2 (IW2) in March, to reduce barriers to learning.
This qualification is for unskilled people just starting out in the industry who sometimes find it difficult to start on the path of lifelong learning. Being able to access resources anytime, from any device – mobile, tablet or computer – makes it easier to take that first step.
Recently, we worked with Civil Contractors New Zealand to transfer our administrative involvement in Civil Trades certification to CCNZ, who as the owners of the certification regime now has the in-house capability to manage this.
We are proud to have worked alongside the CCNZ in the development, launch and management of Civil Trades since 2015.
It has come to be a successful and sustainable regime that recognises Civil infrastructure workers as skilled and competent tradespeople. While our continued involvement is no longer required, we are supportive of the value it adds to the Civil workforce and will continue to promote it to our employers and learners.
Satisfying demand for more women in trade
We are also progressing a number of projects to improve diversity by encouraging under-represented groups into Civil and other infrastructure industries. One of the initiatives we are most proud of is Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure, which celebrates 10 years of success this year.
Over the past decade, we have seen a real change in both attitudes towards women in these traditionally male-dominated industries, and in the number of women joining the infrastructure workforce.
Ten percent of our trainees were women in the year to February 2021; a huge increase in the three percent figure just 10 years ago. In Civil infrastructure, the figure is even higher, with women accounting for over 11 percent of trainees. The under-representation of women in the industry is still significant but the trend is moving in the right direction.
Just as importantly, there have been changes to work culture and recruitment practices that favour women, including mentoring programmes, flexible work hours and equal pay initiatives.
As attitudes towards women in Civil infrastructure change, so does the focus of the Ultimit initiative. The industry has seen the benefits women bring and the challenge now is attracting enough women to satisfy recruitment demands.
Taking action in a time of change
The 2021 year, so far, has seen Civil industry training continue a growth trajectory, while much changes around us as the once-in-a-generation reform to vocational education reaches its zenith this year. Connexis is not passive in this time of transformation and is taking action to ensure the best possible outcome for the industries we serve.
That means investing in our services; promoting infrastructure industry training; and listening to and supporting our customers, learners, assessors and providers.
We will continue to work with industry to build a skilled and productive infrastructure workforce to meet our current and future skill needs.