Construction sector set for expansion

By Helen Frances

A variety of factors mean Auckland and Christchurch will be the hubs of economic growth over the next few years

Engineers and quantity surveyors are in particular demand as Auckland grows and Christchurch is rebuilt. Photo / APN
Engineers and quantity surveyors are in particular demand as Auckland grows and Christchurch is rebuilt. Photo / APN

Skills shortages in the construction and engineering industries are bringing work and opportunity for career development, particularly in Christchurch. The earthquakes have created a live, if tragic, learning experience for New Zealand and seismic areas worldwide.

The sudden growth of job opportunities in Christchurch has magnified a current and ongoing need for qualified, experienced quantity surveyors, site and project engineers, contract supervisors and heavy drainlaying personnel, says David Peterson, general manager, earthquake recovery, Fletcher Construction.

"Due to the volume of work as a result of the earthquakes, there simply have not been enough skilled, qualified and experienced people available to meet both immediate and ongoing needs," Peterson says.

Skill-short sectors and disciplines are often hard to recruit for and competition for suitable candidates is high. Add the difficulty in persuading people to relocate from around New Zealand to meet temporary demand, and a shortage of housing for those prepared to do so.

"In the home repair programme specifically, there is a much larger challenge for contractors seeking tradesmen - there have been estimates of potential shortages of skilled tradesmen in the order of 12,000-15,000. Key shortages are in the areas of painting, plastering and carpentry."

Independent, generally local, contractors in Christchurch employ their own staff to carry out the home repair programme. Fletcher acts as project manager and employs about 700 project management staff for that purpose, but does not employ the several thousand people who actually do the repairs.

In commercial construction, Peterson says the two main growth areas over the next one to three years are Auckland and Christchurch - Auckland owing to the natural effect of recovery and economic growth, and Christchurch with the rebuilding.

"The two markets will be approximately 60/40 biased to Auckland - not due to the volume of work, but more the duration over which it is undertaken, with the Christchurch recovery outside of public sector/government funding likely to be patchy.

"The leaky [building] issues are predominantly in Auckland. The new housing sector is likely to be driven by the Christchurch rebuild and growth in Auckland," Peterson says.

Opportunities for career development will continue in the longer term.

"In particular, quantity surveyors and engineers employed by Fletcher EQR can develop their professional credentials, and a number will have opportunities for redeployment into the other building and construction businesses."

Fletcher Construction also runs apprenticeship and cadet programmes. They take on about 12 new apprentices a year and currently have about 40, mostly carpentry-related, in the scheme. The cadet programme, numbering 20 at present, recruits slightly higher qualified workers than the apprentices. These programmes will continue, subject to workflows.

For engineers, Christchurch offers "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop skills and expertise in a real life seismic rebuild university", says Jonathan Fearnley, Christchurch earthquake rebuild manager at Opus International. Experienced, chartered professional engineers (CPEng) are in high demand in geotechnical and structural engineering, particularly those with seismic experience, and increasingly, sustainable engineering.

"But we are looking at a 10- to 20-year project life and have good programmes in place to assist engineers' development. This starts with our cadet programme, which is aimed at school leavers and spans the whole engineering career cycle."

As the rebuilding progresses they expect pressure on other engineering disciplines to mount, such as mechanical and electrical, infrastructure and fire engineering.

Heather Sporle, lead recruiter at engineers Beca, says the new Building Code has had a noticeable effect on their business and they are adjusting their recruitment accordingly.

"Christchurch also needs innovative thinking. The sheer scale of what needs to be done and the timeframe in which the work needs to be completed means new construction methods, materials and processes need to be harnessed and developed," Fearnley says.

With the rebuilding in the early stages of assessment and design, design engineers are crucial and as the rebuilding progresses the demand for site engineers will increase.

He considers both roles crucial as part of an engineer's overall career development.

"The rebuild of Christchurch will be career-defining for many engineers. I am confident that engineers who capitalise on this experience will be in high demand for years to come."

- NZ Herald

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