More jobs are in the pipeline as infrastructure development continues to boom and construction companies juggle existing work and new projects.
To help attract workers, roading company Higgins has redesigned its apprenticeship system, linking with the relatively new formal qualifications offered by the Civil Trades course of tertiary study.
The first intake opens this week in the Bay of Plenty, ready for the start of 2019.
Although the company has had apprentices throughout its 60-year history, the first four to join the new scheme will begin their careers at Higgins’ Tauranga branch, before the company rolls it out nationwide.
Learning and development business partner Lee Pennock says Higgins has its own intensive internal learning and development programmes but the NZQA qualification will help break down the perception that roading is a low skilled industry.
“The reality is there is a heck of a lot of advanced skills and knowledge involved in the industry these days. The sophistication of the equipment and the advanced technical level of many of the projects mean our crews work within tight parameters and have to get it right.”
He says he company has always built its capabilities from within, but there will now be a more formal structure from entry level.
“Traditionally, people entering field roles in our industry have done so as field staff and there has been no structured career pathway to take new recruits from the point of entry to becoming a tradesperson,” says Pennock. “Having a structured development pathway that links to nationally recognised qualifications and leads to Civil Trades registration will make the industry more attractive.”
Pennock says the company’s apprenticeship programme allows new apprentices to rotate around multiple areas of the industry and choose their favourite before continuing for the rest of their apprenticeship.
Mentors along the way will guide the workers, who will learn from some of New Zealand’s most skilled tradespeople. Pennock says opportunities for career advancement will be available for those ready to work for it.
“A lot of people don’t associate the civil infrastructure industry as a viable career option but the reality is that the qualifications you can achieve are recognised to the same level as traditional trades such as a plumber, electrician or builder,” Pennock says. “The industry is also so broad that you can move into different areas so your opportunity to learn will never hit a ceiling. Those things, along with the investment in infrastructure in New Zealand, mean it’s an exciting time to join the industry.”
Training organisation Connexis has been offering the Civil Trades Certificate since 2015 and is constantly updating the skills it offers, says chairman Brian Warren. In fact, a new block of qualifications are coming out in February.
“For the infrastructure sector, having something like trade certification is very new. It’s only been there for the past few years. More than 200 people have been certified now, which is great, but that is a low number. A lot of people are catching up to the concept of being certified and recognised.”
Warren says where once road workers simply “showed up and did the work” health and safety requirements, at the very least, now demand improved training.
“The mindset was once that anyone can go in and get on with it but there are a lot of technical requirements with being able to use some of the equipment and the handling of materials. A lot more technical knowledge is required that wasn’t quite thought of in the past or considered important in terms of training.”
The apprentices all learn, and are assessed, on the job.
“People don’t want to have to go home and cram and do extra schooling. They want it to be practical – and that is why it works in this industry and this sector.
Warren says the qualification meets the dual need of filling skilled worker shortages in the infrastructure industry while training staff.
“They’re going to be doing the work on top of getting a qualification rather than putting them in a classroom. It’s certainly a good pathway to fill in that gap.”