Contractor (March 2009) - Concrete Career Foundations

01 Mar 2009

Rob Gaimster
Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand (CCANZ)

We have all heard the expression – “People are our greatest asset.”  It is undeniable that human resources can be leveraged for competitive advantage. Yet the concrete sector, and the wider building and construction industry in general, is faced with a challenging shortage of skilled labour in these difficult economic times.
The ongoing failure to attract and retain young people is of particular concern, especially in the wake of an aging demographic and New Zealanders’ inherent desire to travel.

It is also concerning that there does not appear to be a thorough industry-wide understanding of the specific nature of the labour shortages nor an industry-wide skills strategy.

Although the industry training system is developing, it must continue to be positioned to support the new Government’s economic objectives – and promoted vigorously.

Active promotion is crucial.  Ours is a dynamic industry that offers young people the opportunity to both develop a valuable and scalable skill-set, and follow a genuine career pathway within a range of exciting disciplines.

Priority must be given to communicating the training opportunities available in the building and construction industry, to school leavers and other young people currently in casual and unfulfilling employment.

The industry training system must also be underpinned by a strong relationship between industry, education providers and the Government.

One option worth supporting by the new Minister for Building and Construction is the development of an industry wide skills strategy, particularly as there is a risk that shortages in some specific trades will become a constraint on growth, and so slow productivity in the whole industry.

A skills strategy would also help to focus the industry on a number of specific issues. 

These include developing appropriate education, training and apprenticeships to meet identified needs, addressing higher level needs such as quantity surveying and construction / project management, as well as supporting more literacy, numeracy and small business management skills.

Guiding and directing the compulsory education sector to better meet the construction industry’s future needs, such as strengthening workshop-based education programmes is crucial.  As is continuing to lift health and safety, and accident prevention education and training.

Along with a skills strategy, the industry must also develop a comprehensive understanding of the Department of Building and Construction’s (DBH) Licensed Building Practitioner (LBP) scheme and continue to develop a sound training and education response.

This includes ensuring a structured programme of continuing training and development is put in place to support the licensing scheme, which also works to up-skill the industry more widely.

The concrete sector has long enjoyed the benefits offered by a formal registration scheme.  By evaluating and acknowledging the skills and experience of brick and block layers, the Masonry Trades Registration Board (MTRB) has for decades provided an assured level of competency, and an attractive benchmark for existing and aspiring practitioners.

In terms of its own work programme, CCANZ will continue to provide concrete technician courses throughout the country, while also evaluating tertiary educational needs in this area.  In addition, CCANZ will continue to work with the BCITO in developing and implementing industry qualifications, and foster closer relationships with tertiary organisations to raise awareness of the opportunities available via a construction career.

Other concrete sector associations, such as the New Zealand Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NZRMCA) are of like mind, and will be coordinating with CCANZ to deliver on these objectives.

In summary, the building and construction industry, education providers and Government must work closely to encourage young people to consider a construction related career. 

Furthermore, the industry must be alert to the dangers of ignoring the significance of the growing skills shortage, and the strategic drift that may result if we fail to make progress in this area. 

While unemployment is predicted to rise, we cannot be complacent when it comes to promoting careers in building and construction.

Article appeared in Contractor magazine.