Time to train

A booming industry has construction and building on the rise, bringing with it the need to upskill and increase training. NZCN takes a look at the changes ahead and speaks with some of the key players that are out there to help.

Full steam ahead

With construction activity projected to grow steadily to about $48.3b in 2024, detailed in the recently released National Construction Pipeline Report 2021, the Construction Sector Accord says that the industry “can and must” prepare for a different future.

“It’s pretty extraordinary to see such strong forecasts in the Pipeline Report,” says Accord transformation director Dean Kimpton.

“This time last year the predictions were fairly dire, but we now know the sector has built up an incredible head of steam since then, with record building consents. Our worst problems right now are not enough people and materials to do the job.”

Luckily though, there has been steady growth in those joining the industry, and upskilling.

Unitec New Zealand

“We have seen a steady growth in people retraining to become tradespersons over the last couple of years. This is heartening and we see changes in the way schools convey trades as a viable career opportunity,” says Lee Baglow, head of school trades and services at Unitec New Zealand.

“The beauty of trades is that everybody has a role regardless of academic capability. There is something profoundly satisfying by standing back and boasting, ‘I did that’.”

However, the challenge for Unitec has been accommodating the recent change in numbers. But at the same time, Baglow says this is “excellent news for those looking to recruit as we have a healthy supply of talent waiting for a great employer”.

Under the guidance of experienced tutors, carpentry and plumbing and gasfitting students work together building relocatable houses on the Unitec campus

“We offer a complete practical experience by constructing houses sold to market. We are very proud of our site, and if you wish to visit us, I am sure you will leave with the feeling that we manage a professional setup,” says Baglow.

“We have also witnessed growth in our managed apprenticeships… We employ assessors whose job it is to visit employers and the apprentice, ensuring we maintain a strong relationship and are responsive to needs.”

A streamlined approach

The increase in people entering the sector is a good thing, but a challenge that Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Professor John Tookey feels the industry faces, is matching graduate skills to the needs of the industry.

“The history of construction is that of many different trades and professions growing up independently with different bodies of knowledge and understanding. Architects, engineers, surveyors, and trades may all come from the same institution. They could all graduate at the same time. They certainly all have a role to play.

“However, they have never worked with their peers from elsewhere in the industry until the first time they meet on site. This difference in background and educational process can lead to conflicts and misunderstanding between individuals. This in turn can lead to delays and overrunning costs on projects.”

Tookey says that the “future of an increasingly technically complex industry” is one in which designers, surveyors, and trades share more understanding from an early stage in their career – requiring education providers to develop more integrative teaching and exposure to different skills.

“In addition, it requires more authentic assessment that exercises students in the actual skills that they will need on construction sites rather than the more theoretical learning they have been exposed to in the past.”

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Professor John Tookey

“The new Bachelor of Construction programme with majors in construction management and quantity surveying constitute the new flagship qualification that will be at the heart of School of Future Environments. This programme has been introduced in response to the rapidly expanding demand in the sector, with both disciplines appearing on the national skills shortage list,” says Tookey.

“Looking at the rapidly evolving professional landscape faced by NZ construction, we are confident that the scope and integrative nature of the new Bachelor of Construction majors will be able to continually deliver the graduates that we need for the future rather than the past.”

Working together

Part of good training is, of course, being trained by skilled supervisors.

“It is critical that supervisors not only know their stuff technically, but are good communicators. I think in a post-Covid world that becomes more important,” says Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray.

“It’s important for the industry as a whole that people are well trained and well skilled, so as an industry association we look to support the industry in every way that we can.”

The current supply chain pressures and shortages have put a squeeze in some areas of the industry, and Murray says that this is when the investment in training “tends to drop away”. However, when this happens, it is also when the sectors see a rise in incidents and accidents.

“So we encourage to make sure that businesses keep training at the forefront of mind as a critical part of building competency within their businesses moving forward.”

Site Safe

Brett Murray, Site Safe chief executive

As an industry association, Site Safe trains approximately 75,000 workers a year.

“We work close with industry when we are developing our courses,” says Murray.

“Currently we are revising the foundational passport, which will be launched in the second or third quarter of next year.”

Murray says that they are looking for that to “set the standard for foundational training”.

Keeping safe

Another aspect of training that, if neglected, can see a rise in incidents and accidents, is drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Like many safety-sensitive industries, workplace drug and alcohol use is an issue that must always be addressed in the building and construction industry. Unfortunately though, The Drug Detection Agency’s (TDDA) CEO and founder, Kirk Hardy, says that “this problem can get the better of supervisors or managers who don’t have the expertise to deal with employees under the influence or even at risk of being under the influence.”

Having to introduce policies, procedures, testing and rehabilitation programmes can seem “mind-boggling” when workers are in short supply and employers are already under the pump to meet deadlines.

“However, the fact remains that workers under the influence can cause enormous problems on a building site and employers can’t afford to turn a blind eye. Even when there are clear signs an employee is abusing substances – such as attendance problems, performance and behavioural issues, forgetfulness and minor accidents being commonly made – it can still be difficult to know how to confront a worker,” says Hardy.

“If managers don’t know what they are doing, things can escalate rapidly from simple questions to a personal grievance lawsuit, damaging the reputations, finances and relationships.”

TDDA ute providing staff with a BBQ

According to Hardy, the key to staying compliant and running a safe, drug-free workplace starts with education and training that prompts open conversations.

Accredited with Trans-Tasman ISO 15189 to the AS/NZS 4308 and AS 4760 drug testing standard, TDDA’s operations are “ensured to meet rigorous international standards in quality management and competence”.

“With the rigorous training TDDA’s educators continuously undergo, they can effectively train and educate workers, supervisors and managers in the construction industry,” says Hardy.

“TDDA offers three popular types of training: a 60-minute in-house employee education; a four-hour management training; and three, a full-day Comprehensive Substance Identification (CSi) Training – the highest level of drug identification training for supervisors and managers.”

The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA)

Hardy says that the organisation’s “signature in-house employee education is a must”.

Topics covered in these 60-minuite sessions include work health and safety legislation; introducing your drug and alcohol policy; drug and alcohol testing in the workplace; drug and alcohol abuse risks and effects; drug testing for illicit and prescription drugs; drug and alcohol testing procedures and what to expect.

“We help companies educate their employees smoothly, at their workplace, and can tailor an employee education programme to suit any need, in any industry and at any level of employment. This training caters for up to 40 employees per session,” says Hardy.

Digital no longer disruptive

And then there’s the world of digital.

“Digital technologies used to be disruptive technology, now however, they are foundational components. In engineering and construction, digital technology has caused a cultural shift and comprises the set of tools that use and manipulate digital data to help improve, deliver and operate the built environment,” says Dr Abd-Latif, facilitator at Capable NZ.

Otago Polytechnic’s Dr Omer Altaf agrees. And for this reason, believes that digital competency is one of the things which construction professionals need to upskill in.

“The New Zealand government is also pushing the initiatives to accelerate BIM, and innovative tools like AR/VR and modular construction to achieve better productivity and also gain the standards which some European countries have already achieved,” says Altaf.

“Upskilling to use modern tools for better contract administration, taking off quantities, and procurement are required, which will prove the efficiency of construction processes and speedy delivery of good quality buildings.”

The use of drones, VR in earthquake simulation, remote meetings and laser scanning are some of the other examples of the changing digital landscape.

“The question for our industry is how fast and how long do we take to cope with this change?” says Abd-Latif. “With the challenges of influx of international talents, we have to look at our existing workforce for upskilling to evolve alongside of construction technology trends that are impacting the industry.”

But Unitec’s Baglow doesn’t think this will be an issue: “This is nothing new for trades, it’s in our DNA to change and adapt to new technologies and ideas.”

Capable NZ

Capable NZ’s sales and marketing manager, Rob McLeay, says that the New Zealand Diploma in Construction (Construction Management) Level 6 is currently being offered for free via Capable NZ’s “unique” delivery method.

“Over 10 months, you will be asked to reflect and write about your extensive construction experience through case studies and present your findings to a panel of assessors through a portfolio of evidence. Future pathways could lead into the Bachelor of Construction,” says McLeay.

“Capable NZ understands that if you have years of experience behind you, then why start from the beginning again? Our unique delivery model reduces your studying by half, enabling you to unpack your years on the tools working on residential and commercial builds and aligning this experience with current methodologies in construction management. You will come out the other side with a more focussed, critical thinking approach to new builds providing a tonne of value for your employer.”

A change in direction

The importance of digital is echoed by the School of Built Environment at Massey University.

“Like other developed countries, NZ is highly dependent on skilled migrant workers and the importation of building components,” says senior lecturer in sustainable built environment, Eziaku Rasheed.

“However, with the persistent Covid-19 pandemic, alongside other associated border restrictions and supply chain bottle necks, it is now a matter of urgency that we refocus our efforts to upskill and upgrade our local construction market. A transformation of the New Zealand construction industry’s stakeholder supply chain is needed if we are to survive and thrive in the current and future challenges.”

One of the transformations that Rasheed feels is needed is that “our construction processes should transcend the business-as-usual activities that dominate the industry to more digitalised construction approaches.” Another is that skilled workers should continuously upskill and be knowledgeable with prevalent digital technologies to streamline construction-related activities.

“We expose our students to state-of-the-art digital technologies prevalent in the industry while ensuring that they are well abreast with the construction trends,” says Rasheed.

School of Built Environment, Massey University

“All our programmes are highly valued depending on the individual’s need. We pride ourselves on delivering expertise and skills that align with current industry needs. For our Bachelor of Construction programme, we draw on the strengths of our industry partners to provide a unique wealth of knowledge for our students. As a result, our graduates and students are highly sought after by construction firms,” says Rasheed.

“Our facilities management programme, construction law and newly launched specialisations in sustainable built environment and digital built environment specialisations programmes are the first of their kind in New Zealand. The sustainable built environment and digital built environment specialisations are designed to set the pace for a technologically-driven sustainable future in the construction industry.”

The best of both

While the digital world plays an undoubtedly important role in the industry, there are still certain aspects best suited to in-person.

The pandemic saw Site Safe move its foundational training into a fully online course. However, Murray says that “a lot of businesses still like to do face-to-face training because there’s more interaction and activity, and it also avoids some of the issues around literacy and language difficulties” – something the industry association is looking to address moving forward.

Where Murray does see a lot of potential in the digital realm is shorter, more specialised courses.

“We are looking at that opportunity and certainly into the New Year we will be looking to roll out a few of those.”

For onsite workers, training around the traditional risks and hazards that construction brings is also essential.

“I think one of the problems moving forward is encouraging businesses to continue to invest in health and safety training for apprentices and their general workers.”

Changes ahead

Vocational education is changing in New Zealand, and one of those changes is Te Pūkenga.

“Te Pūkenga is going to bring immense change to vocational training – there will be one core qualification delivered across the country and it has been strongly signalled that ‘Skills Standards’ are on the way,” says Baglow, with Unitec now a subsidiary of Te Pūkenga.

“Apprentices, currently managed by industry training organisations and polytechnics, will be managed through Te Pūkenga to ensure that vocational education and training meets industry needs.”

The bottom line: training is only as good as the people who provide it, and fortunately, New Zealand has a wide array of options and quality institutes and products available to help the sector soar.