Workplace safety, long-term training needs, qualifications and closer links with local government tender attributes will continue to dominate Connexis’ commitment to developing a competent, qualified infrastructure workforce.
David Worsnop, Interim Chief Executive, Connexis
Last year was filled with challenges and opportunities for infrastructure Industry Training Organisation (ITO) Connexis and this year looks set to bring more of the same. I am delighted to be coming on board at such a pivotal time, and look forward to leading the organisation into 2017. With more than 35 years of experience gained at organisations including Watercare, Transfield Services and Fletcher Construction, it is interesting to have come full circle from life as a contractor and asset owner to now being involved in the professionalisation of the industry.
Two big changes which impacted on Connexis (and the wider industry) last year were the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and the release of the 30 Year Infrastructure Plan. Both reinforce the importance of having a qualified, competent infrastructure workforce.
Workplace safety became top of mind
Workplace safety and ‘zero harm’ have been front of mind for us all since the introduction of the Act. Using qualified contractors is one of the most effective ways for local authorities to meet increased health and safety responsibilities. It demonstrates a commitment to workplace safety, and provides a level of confidence that work is being carried out by personnel with the skills to work safely and to a high standard.
Long-term need for training
The 30 Year Infrastructure Plan identifies the need for a $110 billion investment in infrastructure over the next 10 years, and has highlighted the requirement for local authorities to maximise value for money and return on investment on their infrastructure assets. Competent, qualified people are a key component in achieving this, with demand for skilled workers at an all-time high.
It is forecast that a further 49,000 people will be required by 2025 to deliver on the planned investment. This figure includes an additional 19,600 new people needed in the civil sector alone by 2020, and a further 650 in the 3 Waters (water treatment, wastewater and water reticulation) by 2020.
As the ITO for the infrastructure industries, Connexis has a central role in building a competent, qualified infrastructure workforce. A key milestone for us in 2016 was to obtain gazetted coverage for the telecommunications industry.
This cemented our position as the ITO for the horizontal built infrastructure industries – servicing civil construction, energy, telecommunications and the 3 Waters – with a workforce of more than 80,000 people.
While the infrastructure industry is under increasing pressure to meet the skills challenge, it is far from doom and gloom. More people than ever before are achieving industry-recognised qualifications through Connexis – over 2600 in 2016.
The year also provided an opportunity for us to review all of our qualifications as part of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority Targeted Review of Qualifications. The review enabled us to collaborate with our respective industries to ensure that our qualifications continue to meet their needs effectively. It also allowed us to develop a structured qualification pathway for each of the industries we serve.
We have also been working in partnership with industry on initiatives to address the skills shortage. Last year saw the rollout of a suite of New Zealand Apprenticeships For Civil Infrastructure, which up until now has not had a structured qualification pathway for new entrants to the industry. This is timely as government signalled the importance of investment in industry training with the November 2016 announcement of its target of 50,000 people in apprenticeships by 2020.
Civil Trades Certification
The New Zealand Apprenticeships for Civil Infrastructure can lead onto the newly-launched Civil Trades Certification process. Civil Trades provides a platform to finally recognise civil construction as a skilled trade. This has huge implications for upskilling the existing workforce, and will also enable us to attract high-calibre new entrants to the industry with a recognised trade and a career pathway.
There are currently over 300 people working towards becoming Civil Trades Certified, and this number is increasing rapidly. Connexis also partnered with other ITOs on Got a Trade Week 2016 – an initiative to promote trades as a viable career option, and attract more young people to the infrastructure industries.
A key focus for Connexis in meeting the skills challenge will be to increase momentum and uptake of Civil Trades. We have just entered year two of a five-year plan for the full integration of Civil Trades into the civil contract process.
Civil Trades embedded in local government tender attributes
By 2020 we expect that Civil Trades will be embedded into local government tender attributes. This five-year window will give contractors time to engage and qualify staff in the new Level 4 qualifications and apply for Civil Trades Certification, with the initial focus on those with significant industry experience.
As competition for job seekers increases we will continue in our drive to attract new talent to our industries. We will be working to strengthen stakeholder partnerships and identify opportunities to close the gap between job seekers and employers. We will also be providing advice to Ministers on apprenticeships, focusing on what works in terms of entry programmes and how enrolments can be encouraged.
We will continue to be a key partner in the Got a Trade initiative looking to promote trades as an attractive and viable career option, and to lead the way in gender diversity through the promotion of females into non-traditional roles within our industries through activities under our brand ‘Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure’.
Finally, we will continue our relationships with local government on standardising and recognising the skills of procurement professionals. The recent launch of the Level 6 New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Procurement Procedures could not be more timely to provide support in this highly specialised area to meet the significant infrastructure investment occurring throughout New Zealand.
This brand new qualification leverages off best practice developed by the NZ Transport Agency, aligns with government rules of sourcing, and will help to even up what is currently a very uneven playing field in terms of procurement skills across local and central government.
Connexis remains committed to collaborating with industry and local government to building a qualified, competent infrastructure workforce. We look forward to working with you in 2017 and beyond.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.