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Construction workforce shortage: Infrastructure Commission confident projects will be delivered

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 14/06/2021 Harry Lock
a large building with smoke coming out of it © RNZ/ Dom Thomas

The Infrastructure Commission says construction projects will still be delivered, but the real question is over what time period.

Infrastructure Commission chief executive Ross Copland says it is important to have a sustained rate of investment in the sector. Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

Concerns have been raised over the viability of some plans, due to a severe shortage of workers the construction industry is currently facing.

In Wellington, where the shortage is among the most critical, it is forecasted 140 percent more workers will be needed this year alone to complete the pipeline of work scheduled.

The data comes from the recently launched Workforce Information Platform (WIP), which has been headed by the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO).

Some said it would mean a number of projects just never get off the ground, but Infrastructure Commission chief executive Ross Copland disagreed.

"The programme will be delivered, the investment programme is always deliverable," he said. "The question is over what period of time."

How to overcome a shortage in the workforce

Crucial for moving forward, he argued, would be an understanding of the existing capacities of various industries, and planning a pipeline of projects which consider the capacity.

"What is the gap between what [infrastructure providers] would like to deliver, and what we know that the market has historically delivered?

"That gap really speaks to the challenge the infrastructure strategy needs to address."

He said it was important there was a sustained rate of investment, which would allow construction firms to scale up to meet the challenge.

"What we need to do is create a sustained, steady rate of growth in the delivery of these different sectors, so we don't get these huge bulges of investment that are brought about by an urgency or a sudden need to address a backlog of built-up demand.

"That allows firms, the education sector, workers and young people, to see that pathway as a career and start to plan for that."

Young people seen as key to growing the workforce

Data from WIP showed in 2017, more than 40,000 people who entered into the industry came from different careers, while 13,500 were graduates.

Copland said there was definitely enough people to be able to meet the workforce demand - the problem was making the most of it.

"There is absolutely a supply chain of ready-to-work skilled people, who if appropriately trained, can come in and fill these roles.

"But some of the challenges is we need to develop an industry that has that consistent flow of work.

"The question is can we build a compelling case for people to join the building and construction industry knowing that's a career for life?"

Part of problem short-term is that while the border has been closed, there has not been the same level of migrants joining the industry. In 2017, more than 8000 migrants joined the industry.

But Copland said the industry also faced a challenge when convincing people to stay in New Zealand, with wages more attractive in Australia.

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