Reaching milestones

The industry view from the industry training organisation for infrastructure industries, which provides recognised qualifications for civil contracting. Peter Benfell, chief executive officer, Connexis.

I THINK, in the future when we look back at 2017 and what it meant for the infrastructure sector in this country, it will stand out as a watershed year, particularly when it comes to Civil Trades certification.

Though it was launched in December 2015, 2017 was really the year Civil Trades truly gathered momentum. After some tweaks to improve the flow of the certification process early in the year, we finished with well over 100 civil infrastructure workers fully certified and now have more than 300 enrolled and working toward completion.

Reaching that 100 milestone and seeing the programme begin to flourish has been hugely gratifying for all those who have been involved in the planning, and launching of Civil Trades. And, though I took up my position with Connexis only in September, I too have found it immensely rewarding on many levels.

Not only are we, as an industry and a country, finally able to formally acknowledge the incredible skills and experience of our civil construction workers, we can also see the flow-on effects in terms of the increased pride those people take in their work, and how their successes go on to inspire and mentor co-workers as they too complete certification.

As that happens, our workers themselves will become our best recruitment tool; the best advertisement for the advantages of choosing a career in civil infrastructure. That is vital, because it is in that area that there is still much work to be done.

Demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high, with a forecast of an additional 49,000 people required by 2025 to deliver on the planned $110 billion government investment in infrastructure.

To find those tens of thousands of workers we must compete with other industries, such as construction, also battling a skills shortage. We must continue to ensure we are doing everything within our power to make civil infrastructure an attractive proposition with a clear, rewarding career path.

Civil Trades is obviously at the very core of that, but we have other ammunition in the arsenal as well.

Our New Zealand Apprenticeship programmes now have a clear pathway into Civil Trades, which will hopefully satisfy the understandable desire of today’s youth to be able to see opportunities for advancement through a career from the outset.

The 2017 year also saw the launch of the Transition to Work pre-employment programme, which provides workers for big new contracts requiring large-scale employment.

The basic premise of the programme is to take people with no industry experience and put them through two weeks of training, equipping them with the skills they need to be work-ready and of value to employers. Each programme is set up to meet a pre-agreed requirement for a specific contract (usually 10 to 20 people) and is facilitated by Connexis.

After a strict recruitment process, those selected attend a residential training course at Waiouru military camp, which focuses on compliance training, technical training and life skills. On successful completion of the course, participants are placed in full time employment where they will work towards a Level 2 New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works.

So far several Transition to Work programmes targeting Maori and Pasifika, currently funded by the Ministry of Social Development, have already been run successfully around the country and, as an example, allowed us to supply two groups of nine workers to Wellington’s Transmission Gully motorway project.

Funnily enough, the other benefit we are now able to offer workers considering a career in civil infrastructure is job security. While the government’s works programme has thrown the skills shortage into sharp relief, it also means potential workers know there is plenty of demand for our industry in the foreseeable future. It’s difficult to think of another industry in the country able to predict that kind of security.

All this means our focus in the civil infrastructure space for 2018 is engagement. That’s engagement with our employers and employees making sure they are all familiar with what Civil Trades offers them and the industry.

It’s engagement with our stakeholders in government departments to make sure they too are committed to Civil Trades and ensuring this is reflected in contract tenders.

And, of course, it’s engagement with the wider community to ensure all jobseekers, whether they’re studying or fresh out of school, or considering a change of career, or a way out of unemployment, know about the diversity of careers available in civil infrastructure and what it can offer them in terms of a path to success.

We’ll be hitting the road with Civil Contractors New Zealand (CCNZ) in 2018 with a series of roadshows promoting our industry and the career pathways available to all of those jobseeker groups.

We’ll also be continuing with other initiatives such as the annual Girls with Hi-Vis event, driven by Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure. The event 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.

And we will again be holding Annual Connection, scheduled for Christchurch in October, the yearly public showcase offering our workers in electrical supply and telco the opportunity to compete and demonstrate their skills.

Again it represents a chance for those considering or not overly familiar with the industry, to see just what our people are capable of, and what a career in Infrastructure is like.

All of this means it’s an incredibly exciting time for the industry and I am thrilled to be a part of it. There are plenty of challenges on the road ahead, but also plenty of plans in place so that we may continue to evolve and grow as we meet those challenges.

This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives 2018.

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