A new partnership between the construction sector and the government is giving the sector hope for a more secure workforce as it faces at least four more years of continuing growth.

New Zealand’s building and trades sector has been beset by worker shortages and the collapse of major construction companies: Mainzeal in 2013, Ebert Construction last August, Arrow in February and MR8 this week.

“Construction has been fraught for decades with the boom-bust cycle, low margins and people not investing enough back into their business,” says Specialist Trade Contractors Federation president Graham Burke.

“But for the first time in my memory, industry leaders are on the same page. It’s a long time since we’ve seen this many larger players fall over – and that’s been a day of reckoning if you like.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Fletcher Construction chief executive Peter Reidy and other big industry players this week agreed to work together to tackle the industry’s issues, including worker shortages.

New Zealand needs to find at least another 50,000 workers and tradespeople for the next four years alone as “unprecedented” demand shows no sign of easing, thanks to “incredible” infrastructure deficits around the world, housing shortages and the lack of tradespeople being trained.

Burke says despite the high profile collapses construction and trades offer a potentially lucrative career path and a comfortable living for those with “smarts” who want to work hard.

“People are starting to realise that just going to university isn’t enough to guarantee you a good lifestyle. We’re seeing a large number of apprentices who have actually been to university.”

Research last year shows a worker with a degree could lag behind a tradesperson for up to 30 years – mostly because of university debt.

Jake Alderson started his career as soon as he left school at 16 – and has gone on to become foreman of several construction crews at the age of only 23.

“I jumped at the chance to get on a grader and become a grader operator. Within a couple of months I realised that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “It’s quite cool to know that you’ve been part of a team that’s constructed key projects in Auckland.”

Alderson loves driving through the Waterview Tunnel and the Southern Corridor and past the expanding Auckland Airport and being able to say “I helped build that”.

HIs goal now is to get into project management.

“There is such great opportunity in civil trades because there is such a lack of skilled people. There is so much opportunity to build yourself an amazing career.”

Tradestaff national key account manager Andy McCormick says construction offers great rates of pay and a “large pipeline” of work for years to come.

“Demand still outweighs supply for skilled workers – finding new staff is providing to be the biggest handbrake to employers’ productivity,” McCormick says.

Tradestaff puts workers with employers but maintains responsibility for the workers in terms of finding work and getting paid, regardless of the challenges in the industry, such as Government training proposals.

“Training takes time and we do have some concern that the uncertainty around training may discourage potential workers from considering a career in the trades.”

Burke says most of the workers employed in the construction sector work for small to medium enterprises, a fact that adds to job security: even when Mainzeal collapsed most of the staff displaced were not construction workers and those who were would have found work “by lunchtime”, he says.

“The labour market in all the trades is so tight that there’s way more jobs than there are people to fill them – if you want to be a person that’s going to show up three days a week and come in late and not work very hard, you’re going to struggle but if you’re a good worker you give it a good shot every and ou’ve got a few smarts and you want to apply yourself, you’ve got a very good future – and it’s pretty secure.”

The latest report from Pacificon Building Intelligence, which tracks activity in the building sector lists construction projects worth billions of dollars that will keep trades workers busy for years to come:

  • AVJennings’ 84.5ha greenfield site development in Auckland that will create 575 homes and five commercial lots.
  • The $72m Precinct Properties NZ Ltd development in the Wynyard Quarter
  • The biggest “build-to-rent” apartment building New Zealand planned for Tamaki by New Ground Capital, who are building a five-storey building with nearly 180 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
  • A luxury apartment Albany.
  • The $200m Ormiston Town Centre, which includes 700 homes, 100 business tenants and four anchor tenants plus plans for a car parking building, gym, library and aquatic centre.
  • 1300+ new homes in Drury West.
  • A $28.2m dental teaching facility in South Auckland.
  • Wellington’s three-level children’s hospital, which will have 50 beds and 21 clinic rooms, connected by a link bridge to the main hospital.
  • North Point in Johnsonville where 70-residential units and 97 carparks have been approved.
  • A $7.1m investment for a hospital in Kawakawa, Northland, a new outpatients and primary care facility. The 1st stage opened in Sep 2018.
  • ‘Mangawhai Central’, touted as one of New Zealand’s biggest coastal township commercial developments will include a light industrial business park, national brand supermarket, shopping centre, retirement village and residential area.
  • Building consents in Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty building consents have exceeded $1b for the third year.
  • Cypress Capital is planning a eight-level hotel in Taupo.
  • Napier Port plans a $142m berth extension to reduce congestion, to be commissioned by 2022.
  • Kiwirail is moving to a $40m freight hub in Manawatu.

And it’s not just in the North Island:

  • Tasman District Council plans to start building a $100m Waimea dam this year
  • A $100m farming project will create an irrigation scheme at Simons Pass Station, taking irrigation water from the canal between Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki.
  • Dunedin is about to experience a construction boom thanks to a $1.4b hospital rebuild, a planned redevelopment of the harbourside and construction at Otago University.

– By Helen van Berkel. Source: Pacifecon (NZ) Ltd

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