Meeting today’s skills gap

Meeting today’s skills gap - Contractor Mag - Oct 2017 - Featured Image

THE OUTLOOK FOR the New Zealand Civil Infrastructure sector is rosy.

Infometrics data shows our sector contributes around $4.7 billion to the economy every year and in 2016 it made up 2.1 percent of GDP.

The sector employs 49,000 people throughout the country whose average annual earnings of $70,500 are $12,700 higher than the national average and the last five years have seen sector employment grow by 4.3 percent each year.

The forecast ahead is very promising: under the Government’s 30 Year Infrastructure Plan, spending on infrastructure by local and central government between 2017 and 2025 is expected to be around $110 billion.

While the sector is in a period of significant growth and change, there are corresponding challenges.

It is forecast an additional 21,000 workers will be required in the next three years in civil construction, electricity supply, telecommunications and 3 Waters (water treatment, wastewater and storm water).

Around 3,600 new workers will be required in civil construction each year to 2021 to meet job growth and replacement demands alone. Providing these people and ensuring they have the necessary skills to do their jobs will be a significant test of the Infrastructure sector’s ability to keep pace.

Bridging the skills and labour gap

Most trades and services have well publicised skills and labour force gaps and our sector is no exception. Around 30 percent of the sector workforce is medium-high to highly skilled, but the prediction for the critical growth period we are entering is that stronger growth will occur in highly skilled jobs compared with lower-skilled jobs.

To give our industry credit, a lot has and is being done.

At pre-employment level, initiatives like the Transition to Work programme are helping to bridge the gap between employers and potential employees by offering a pathway to apprenticeship and civil trades certification.

For workers on career paths, Connexis’ involvement with Got a Trade Industry Training Awards and its related activities and website are working well to promote the industry and there is on going work to improve existing trades certifications and qualifications along with other skilled workforce solutions.

All of these are helping to strengthen our Infrastructure community through the provision of attractive career paths and life-long opportunities for up-skilling.

Age and diversity

A critical issue requiring more focus is our ageing workforce.

We have a pool of experienced tradespeople who are a wonderful resource for training the future generation through apprenticeships and on the job mentoring. But given there is currently so much work on, our senior tradespeople are too infrequently given the opportunity to teach or pass on their knowledge.

Here, the industry needs to look to its future urgently.

In 2017 only 17 percent of the civil construction sector workforce is female.

Thanks to initiatives like Girls with Hi-Vis and Got a Trade the figure has increased from 14 percent since 2013 and there are some great success stories out there.

But there is still much to be done in attracting more women into the sector. The benefits of increased diversity in the workplace, from more people-friendly working environments to the introduction of fresh new perspectives and talent, are evident to all.

The changing face of training

Technology is moving and changing fast and at times disrupting the way things are done or how services are delivered.

Fast change and disruption require companies to become more innovative and agile and workforces to be more flexible with transferrable skills.

And it has very obvious implications for the types and calibre of industry training provided to our sector.

Rather than simply equipping workers with technical skills, training will increasingly involve a greater emphasis on the ability to learn and adapt.

Partnering for a better future

The workforce skills gap, I believe, provides an ideal platform for the industry to come together and look at how all of our stakeholders – organisations, companies and employees alike – could be working more collaboratively towards a long-term plan for creating a more skilled, flexible and productive workforce.

A week into my role at Connexis I am impressed by the great, committed people in our industry who all want to see it move forward more quickly.

This needs to happen so we can build a better functioning and more prosperous nation.

This article first appeared in Contractor October 2017.

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