Local insights report: March/April 2023

Waikato local insights report for March/April 2023 – Focus on Construction and Infrastructure.

You are welcome to quote from any report below – please attribute the Waikato Regional Skills Leadership Group, an independent advisory group on regional skills and workforce development. ​

Attracting rangatahi to the construction industry

Construction and Infrastructure (C&I) is 1 of 5 priority sectors in the Waikato Regional Workforce Plan (RWP). There is vast opportunity to increase capacity and capability to meet the increasing investments in civic infrastructure, and commercial and residential construction projects, across the Waikato.

One of the RWP actions is to improve the connection between the construction industry and secondary schools to effectively connect school leavers with industry pathways. The Regional Skills Leadership Group (RSLG) has identified the need to facilitate changes in the mindsets of students so that they can see themselves in C&I, ensuring a strong school to industry worker pipeline. The RSLG is engaging with industry and schools to gain a clearer picture of C&I workforce needs and how to promote C&I in schools. The industry needs to become more visible in the education system.

The RSLG is also working with industry to understand whether investment policies held by firms are aimed at attracting talent and retaining skills. Medium-sized C&I firms are trading off investing in apprenticeships and training schemes with meeting immediate client demands for efficiency and productivity. This is because they do not have the capacity, and sometimes foresight, to realise concurrent skills development and output continuities.

The aging workforce is a significant concern because there are not enough young workers entering the industry to replace retiring workers. Providing mentoring/pastoral care to younger workers from the older workers ensures transference of industry knowledge.

Waikato Regional Workforce Plan

Construction demand at a glance

The current demand for construction resources far outstrips the current workforce supply. Consented projects, together with an allowance for unconsented work, have an estimated value of $1 billion per quarter nationally. New projects are entering the pipeline and, as deferred projects come on stream, the peak wave in demand will continue to roll forward in time.

There are 6,261 job openings forecast in the construction sector in the Waikato RSLG area from 2023-2028 (7,882 net replacement job openings and -1,621 new jobs).

Work Information Platform(external link) — Waihanga Ara Rau/Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council

Housing stocktakes estimate a current shortfall of 7,500 homes in Waikato.  The Waikato region is the fourth most populous region in Aotearoa and has the second highest social housing register of 2,600 people. Housing sector companies expect to see contracting work increase over the next 6-12 months in Waikato and then drop off by up to 40% due to the pull on C&I resources (including labour) to service other regions of the country impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Recovery work will include damage control, rebuilds and renovations.

Waikato Housing Initiative(external link)

Addressing workforce shortages

While there is a lot of investment in infrastructure across the motu, including in the Waikato, there are not enough people to deliver the projects. There are ongoing skills shortages in the areas of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders; however, project managers with the experience to oversee large-scale infrastructure projects, and construction managers who can oversee the entire construction process from planning to completion are also required. Recent severe weather events will further affect the sector, on top of the lingering impact of the tail end of the pandemic.

There are opportunities to expand C&I workforce participation by increasing the number of Māori, Pacific and women workers in the sector. Māori and Pacific learner participation is equal to community percentages, but the focus needs to be on completion and progression.

Good connections continue to be built between Māori businesses and procurement pipelines. The Waikato Housing Initiative has been formed, working with iwi, council and housing developers. Four significant housing infrastructure projects received grants from the Infrastructure Accelerated fund by Kāinga Ora. These projects provide further opportunity for Māori workforce development.

The RSLG supports initiatives to attract women to the sector, such as 'Women in Hi Vis' and the online toolkit and equity directory, 'The Women’s Toolbox – Get a Career in the Trades'. Downer also has many women coming through, often from other sectors, and they bring other valuable skills with them.

Over 50% of new entrants into the C&I sector are career changers with the average age of work-based construction learners being 27 years, although it’s higher for women. The targeted transition, upskilling and retention of career changers is critical for industry.

Industry skills development

One of the actions in the RWP is to work with industry partners to identify critical skills (eg literacy and numeracy); skills in contracts, risk and business management; and life skills and make sure the Waihanga Ara Rau micro-credential programme aligns with sector needs.

Waihanga Ara Rau, with the support of BCITO, has since worked with small and medium enterprises to develop resources to support delivery of 6 micro-credentials. These include Basic Construction, Demolition and Renovation, On Site Assembly, Interior Linings, Exterior Envelope and Steel Fixers.

Companies are investing in in-house training to attract and retain workers. Companies like Downer teach transferable skills across industry, such as literacy or health and safety. Similar practice can also be seen in the energy sector, which also trains people with transferable skills. Small to medium sized businesses can leverage relationships with larger companies who have successful recruitment/training/skills development programmes for guidance.

Industry-led innovation is increasing productivity and creating opportunities for skills development. For example, Fosters construction company in the Waikato region stores all its design work in the Cloud so that it can be accessed anywhere. The project manager on site can access the drawings and highlight any areas of concern, then send it back to the design office, where they will reconsider and reissue the drawing straight to the site.

Firms can model these technological advancements for others that can’t currently afford to make the investment and rely on tried-and-true methods. A lot of the technology available on the market can be very confusing. Smaller companies may miss the Connexis opportunity, for example, because it is not incorporated into employment contracts, and they don’t teach transferrable skills that could be used across the sector.

Our focus for the next 2 months

The logistics/freight and health sectors and the Waikato Regional Workforce Plan refresh 2023/2024.

Prepared by the regionally led Waikato Regional Skills Leadership Group.

For further information, please contact: waikatorslg@mbie.govt.nz

Last updated: 04 May 2023