Last year was a watershed year for the infrastructure sector, particularly when it came to Civil Trades certification. Peter Benfell, chief executive, Connexis.
Though launched in December 2015, 2017 was really the year the Civil Trades certification programme truly gathered momentum. After some tweaks to improve the flow of the certification process early in the year, we finished 2017 with well over 100 civil infrastructure workers fully certified and currently have more than 300 enrolled and working toward completion.
Reaching that 100-person milestone and seeing the programme begin to flourish has been hugely gratifying for all those who have been involved in the planning, and launch, 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.
Now we, as an industry and a country, are finally able to formally acknowledge the incredible skills and experience of our workers across the civil infrastructure, water, telco and energy sectors. 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.
Skilled workers in short supply
Demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high. A forecast additional 49,000 people are 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, which is also battling a skills shortage. So 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.
The need for skilled workers to fill a shortfall has never been more obvious than in the water sector. Water quality and availability – whether it’s the impact of climate change, the state of rivers and lakes, or the quality of drinking water in our homes – has never been more top-of-mind for Kiwis than it has been in the past 12 months, and with good reason.
Incidents such as the Havelock North contamination in 2016 have at least had the positive side effect of forcing all areas of the water sector to work more closely together, and highlighted the crucial importance of having a highly-skilled, knowledgeable workforce.
Fortunately, before that incident, Connexis’ Water Industry Group (WIG), made up of experts drawn from every area of the water sector, had identified the need to review and update its qualifications and unit standards to ensure it remained relevant to the industry’s evolving needs.
To that end, June 2017 marked the final enrolments in the old qualifications, with studies to be completed by the end of 2018.
Future Training Concept
The WIG has instead adopted the Future Training Concept (FTC) model. To sum up, it means a greater focus on training delivered via e-learning, mixed with some attendance at block courses. This allows workers and employers greater flexibility and access to training. There has also been some suggestion of the need for a controlled operational environment in which trainees can demonstrate their skills, much as a trainee pilot might use a flight simulator.
Connexis currently has five programmes at various stages of development. New Apprenticeship Programmes are being rolled out at the start of 2018.
Ultimately, this means that the water sector is learning that it must keep pace with technology to ensure its workers are fully trained, in the most effective, efficient way. The key now will be making sure we have employers on board, understanding that they may need to adjust their idea of what training is and how essential it is.
They must budget for it every year and allow workers to complete their online assessments in work time, just as they would have had they been attending a block course.
The other key change in water, will be the proposed tying of industry certification to the risk profile of a treatment plant. This will ensure workers have the precise skills and experience specific to their current place of work. I expect that to be a game changer for the industry, and something that should help guarantee the safety of our water quality in the future.
While Civil Trades certification is at the very core of addressing the skills shortage across all the sectors we service, 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.
Transition to Work pre-employment programme
Last 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.
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.
Roadshows with CCNZ
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 open days, 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 the electrical supply and telco sectors 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 was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.