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Source and article by Philip Aldridge, Chief Executive, Waihanga Ara Rau, Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council.

With 2023 approaching the halfway mark, I am reflecting on what Waihanga Ara Rau has achieved in what can only be described as changing times for both the industry and vocational education.

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 progress and engagement with you. Much of our first year was about getting our systems set up, our people on board, our culture embedded and establishing relationships with you, our industry. We have achieved that and so much more as we round out our second year of operation.

Now we are focused on providing skills leadership on behalf of industry and reinforcing the following key outcomes over the next 18 months:

We have quality relationships with industry and productive partnerships with Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs), Construction Accord, ConCove, industry associations, iwi, hapū and education providers.

Industry understands the role of Waihanga Ara Rau and how to leverage the organisation.

Qualifications system products are informed by industry needs.

Assurance practices and programmes support national consistency and quality learning


Relationships with Māori support greater awareness of career opportunities in our industries

and opportunities to train at all levels.
We could not do all this without your support and genuinely thank you for your input and feedback. The pressure is on

Skills shortages in construction and infrastructure do not appear to be diminishing any time soon. We have record employment across the economy and the shortages are similar in other countries. Many countries 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 workplaces and


communities are attractive and welcoming in this new world of work, particularly if migrants are going to help at all.

Also adding pressure are adverse weather events which add to the volume of work immensely. While evaluation is ongoing, early predictions after the recent cyclone and flood events are that the repair and rebuilding expenses will amount to approximately $6.3 billion while evaluation is ongoing.

For many construction businesses, the last two years have been a frustrating cocktail of lockdowns, other project delays, labour and skill shortages, capacity constraints, disrupted supply chains, materials shortages, and sharply rising costs. The boom-bust-cycle nature of the construction industry means that businesses are more susceptible to cash flow issues. As a result, construction companies could face more pressure from a mix of project delays and cost increases, consents are also down 25% in March 2023 compared to the same time last year, indicating a slowdown in residential construction activity.

Preparing the future workforce

Attracting people to the industry is all well and good, but we also need to make sure that they 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 a wide range of 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 are an attractive proposition with genuine career prospects and opportunities for everyone to succeed.

Attracting more ākonga (students), rangatahi (young adults) 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.

Retaining talented workers

The retention of skilled workers in construction and infrastructure is indeed a challenge. Waihanga Ara Rau is committed to helping industry address this issue. One key approach is to foster supportive and inclusive work environments. By supporting developing leaders, cultural competency and the well-being and safety of employees, employers can build culture, diversity, reduce burnout and promote positive work-life balance. Offering opportunities for career advancement is another strategy that can be employed. By investing in the growth and development of skilled workers through higher-level training, business owners can aim to enhance job satisfaction which in turn increases commitment. Businesses should strive to create work environments that not only attract skilled workers but also motivate them to build long-term careers.

Being consistent and meeting industry needs

No matter where a learner is based, whom they work for, or how or where they learn, every learner achieving the same qualification should gain the same skills and knowledge. The time it takes to become qualified 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 is working in close partnership with industry, vocational 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 across 57 industries in the construction and infrastructure sector. 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 1,200 standards and over 40 qualifications in the first eighteen months of our 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 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. 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 (employees) and employers, RSLGs, providers, government agencies, and wānanga.

Achieving great outcomes together

Only in partnership with industry can Waihanga Ara Rau support education providers and employers who train 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 the workforce overnight. We are pleased that the Apprenticeship Boost initiative has been extended until the end of 2024. This support will help, but 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 to ensure vocational education is funded in a way that best meets the needs of the industry. 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.