Working together to achieve successful outcomes

by Philip Aldridge, Chief Executive, Waihanga Ara Rau.

With 2023 fast approaching, I am reflecting on what Waihanga Ara Rau has been able to achieve in what can only be described as unsettling times for both the industry and for vocational education.

Phil engaging Auck roadshow

Waihanga Ara Rau, the Workforce and Development Council (WDC) for Construction and Infrastructure, was established in October 2021. I am pleased to report on our achievements and engagement with you. As a brand-new organisation, much of our first year was about getting our systems set up, our people on board, our culture embedded and establishing relationship with you, our industry. We have achieved that and so much more. Some highlights of our mahi with and for industry include:

  • Completing a Workforce Development Strategy with the Electricity Supply Industry. This identified several Strategic Goals and action recommendations about attracting new people to the workforce and the importance of clear career planning for the current workforce.
  • Completing our Three Waters projects. These show that 6,000-9,000 extra people are needed in this industry over the next 30 years. Key activities we are undertaking with the industry includes initiatives to attract new people to the workforce and creating a seamless transition for those transitioning from another career path.
  • Publishing our first Workforce Development Plan. This plan is the starting point for the development of approx. 11 Strategic Sector Workforce Development Plans across the Construction and Infrastructure sectors. It looks at past workforce trends, captures a snapshot of the current workforce and paints a picture of the future. As a living document, it will be updated as we develop Workforce Development Plans for Strategic Industry Groups and ultimately individual industry workforce development plans.
  • Creating our online Workforce Information Platform (WIP.org.nz) WIP displays national and regional gaps and surpluses within the construction and infrastructure labour market determined by the dollar value of planned and active projects in the pipeline. It shows the occupations and numbers of people we need to put that work in place.
  • Launching tradecareers.co online toolkit. This toolkit helps employers hire and retain women and demystifies the construction and infrastructure sector for women.
  • Launching fifteen regional reports as part of the Regional Construction Workforce Planning and Development Project.
  • Reviewed and developed over 600 standards and 25 qualifications. This has maintained the currency of industry qualifications and begun our focus on creating a skilled workforce for the future.

We could not have done all this without your support and genuinely thank you for your input and feedback.

The pressure is on

Skills shortages in construction do not appear to be diminishing any time soon. We have record employment across the economy and the shortages are similar in other countries. Now that the world is open again post-COVID, we are all competing for the same workers. We also have a declining birth rate and an ageing population. The combination of these factors is a perfect storm putting pressure on the sector to maintain a pipeline of skilled workers. Together, we need to make sure that our workplaces and communities are attractive and welcoming in this new world of work, particularly if migrants are going to help at all.
Attracting more rangatahi (school leavers) and pakeke (career changers) to the industry and into vocational education programmes will take a team effort by industry, industry associations, education providers, government ministries/organisations, including Waihanga Ara Rau, and schools.

Preparing the future workforce

Attracting people to the industry is all well and good, but we also need to make sure that these young people and adults are supported, prepared and work-ready before they are hired. If newcomers understand what to expect on the job, and have already developed a keen interest in the type of work they will be doing and what they will be learning, then it becomes highly likely they will be content and stay in the sector. Getting some elementary skills on board before entering the industry also helps. This is where trade academies and work preparation courses can fit in.

We also need to raise aspirations and narrow the skills and diversity gap. To achieve this, we will need to disrupt the way that companies engage with the pipeline of talent and provide people with the tools to challenge stereotypes. What we keep hearing from employers is that they cannot find the right people to hire. This signals that we must help people get ready for the industry and support them to become the right people to hire by shining a light on the future world of work. We need to do this together by making sure the construction and infrastructure sector is an attractive proposition with genuine career prospects and opportunities that for everyone to succeed.

Being consistent and meeting industry needs

No matter where in the motu a learner is based, who they work for, or how or where they learn, every learner achieving the same qualification should gain the same skills and knowledge. Timeframes for achieving programmes should be consistent as well as assessment decisions. This is one of the main goals of the reform of vocational education and our assurance team are working in close partnership with industry, vocation education providers and schools to achieve this goal.

Making qualifications and standards fit for purpose

Waihanga Ara Rau is responsible for the lifecycle of 149 qualifications, and 2,822 unit standards. We have embraced this huge programme of work to make sure all qualifications remain relevant and meet industry needs. With the help of industry, we have improved the relevance of more than 600 standards and over 25 qualifications in our first year of operation.
We are also focused on helping the industry prepare for the future and recognising emerging skill requirements across our sector. We are working on creating new qualifications and unit standards for industry groups where no qualifications have previously existed, including Site Traffic Systems Management and Underground Utility Location.

Our engagement with you

We have built strong connections with industry groups and other WDCs. In our first year of operation, we have worked with industry to develop Workforce Development Strategies that provide a 5-10 year view of workforce requirements and to ensure industry qualifications and skills standards are relevant, readily accessible and support improved outcomes for learners and employers. We have initiated contact, started relationship building and are getting to know you, our stakeholders. Our focus is to make sure your interests are well represented, build your trust and confidence in what we do, share our findings, and support many industry initiatives.
We have engaged with a range of diverse groups and individuals from across the sector, including industry peak bodies and other sector-representative groups, kaimahi and employers, Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs), providers, government agencies, and wānanga.

Achieving great outcomes together

Only in partnership with industry can Waihanga Ara Rau support education providers to produce people with the right skills and enable people from all walks of life to have rewarding careers in our sector.

There is no switch to turn on that will deliver many thousands of new people into our workforce overnight. Many more newcomers are needed to meet the current and planned project pipeline in the next three years. The things we can do are provide industry with the facts, strategies and competency frameworks that will help achieve the most successful outcomes possible.

We will advocate for you with government and other agencies so that your voice is heard. We will help you look after your people with the resources and tools you need to support well-being and together, we can make change happen. We are practical, industry-focused and energised by your support and engagement. Your input into our mahi and your feedback is so important to make sure we are delivering exactly what you need. Get in touch, we look forward to hearing from you.