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Recruitment hub set for big infrastructure build

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An industry-led recruitment hub, BuildNZ Now, is being launched to address systemic skills and labour shortages in the construction sector that threaten to disrupt or delay the Government’s $68B programme of infrastructure works.

As Government announced a slight relaxation of the border rules restricting skilled migration to New Zealand, BuildNZ Now was announced to support all organisations involved in the big build, including government agencies and ministries, local councils, private developers and training institutions.

Conceived and developed by HainesAttract, which created the international recruitment LookSee programme, BuildNZ Now will be a one-stop shop where all construction projects nationwide can be collated, displayed and form the basis for careful management of the skills and labour supply.

Workforce planning is needed because of the scale of the build, the decades-long structural skill deficit, recent industry layoffs and the geographical reach of the build programme, meaning skilled and unskilled labour is needed from Northland to Southland.

Uncertainty on projects and skills needs

Spokesman Hamish Price says there is still a high level of uncertainty about where and when skills and labour will be required, and will remain an issue even after the Government announces its shovel-ready projects as demand will likely outstrip supply in certain areas.

Price says BuildNZ Now will meet the immediate industry need for visibility across all projects, identification of the positions and skills needed and allow project owners and developers to plan and hire accordingly.

It will also facilitate swift redeployment of those impacted by recent construction sector redundancies, as well as for engineers in sectors like aviation, tech and tourism retraining to join New Zealand’s big build, Price says.

Rohini Ram, Partner for EY’s People Advisory Services, says that "in these challenging times employers are weighing up their options as to how best to meet their continuing business talent needs. Whether this is through sharing onshore talent resources within an industry where demand for talent is shifting or bringing in key staff from offshore, smart new solutions are required." Association of Consulting and Engineering CEO Paul Evans says ACE members see significant uncertainty in the marketplace, so for them, BuildNZ Now will enable a critical visibility of the pipeline and ensure continuity of work. "Our sector has gone to great lengths to attract and retain world-class people, who will be central to our nation’s economic recovery, but the challenge is how long it will be before recovery works come to market," Evans says. "While there are high expectations for the Government’s ‘shovel ready’ projects, the decisions are taking much longer than expected and we don’t know how these projects will be distributed across regions and sectors, making it challenging to plan."

"The sector must be able to effectively coordinate resources to ensure we don’t lose skill and capacity from the industry, as that will have long term consequences for our New Zealand’s infrastructure and our economic recovery," Evans says.

While local councils have a responsibility to prioritise work for local contractors and labour, Ram expects demand for skills and labour to outstrip supply, requiring a more co-ordinated approach to nationwide recruitment.

"Our current situation calls for a pragmatic initiative to help people with the right skills get into important jobs," Ram adds. "This is about addressing urgent short-term need while at the same time building long-term capability in the industry."

Training for the future

Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) chief executive Warwick Quinn says BuildNZ Now should enable the tertiary education sector to better understand the medium-and-long term needs of the country, particularly at a regional level.

"Institutions need to understand the future demand for construction skills in order to plan and develop a pipeline of skilled people for industry" ," he says "However, given demand is dictated by firms (who are usually hesitant to train when the supply of work is low) the sector is often caught short when the economy recovers"

"The Government’s training announcement in the Budget is therefore an adrenaline shot for the sector by hopefully producing qualified tradespeople and retraining skilled workers at a time when it is difficult for firms to do it," Quinn says.

Priyani de Silva-Currie, Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia vice-president, says the recruitment hub will help the industry achieve long-term positive results: "BuildNZ Now gives us confidence that our training will support the industry to ensure effective infrastructure planning, design procurement and improve our long-term management of infrastructure."

Encouraging better coordination between training institutions and the industry will, in the long term, help reduce New Zealand’s reliance on the offshore skills needed to build complex infrastructure projects, de Silva-Currie says.

Overseas recruitment for key skills Ram says some of the big ticket infrastructure projects, such as tunnels, rail and motorways, require highly technical, rare skills which are not always available in New Zealand, and which in recent times have involved targeted offshore recruitment.

"There are currently highly-skilled foreign construction professionals stranded here without work and who will be highly sought after right now," she says. "But many projects will struggle to get underway if employers are unable to efficiently place both onshore and offshore talent into skilled roles."

"It is encouraging to see flexibility from the government on opening the border for specific projects, such as for Wellington Water and high-value film sector projects," Ram adds. "As a country and an economy, we’re all counting on getting planned infrastructure projects happening as quickly as possible and BuildNZ Now will mean better co-ordination to ensure we’re able to place the right people in the right jobs immediately. Strategic management of borders is also required, to secure the rare technical skills we need and support a targeted national approach to training over the medium to longer term," she says.

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