A new campaign aims to attract more people into the busy construction sector, writes Graham Skellern

Traditionally, construction companies are squaring off and bidding against each other for the latest multi-million dollar project. Now they are also banding together to improve the industry's skills shortage in Auckland and in other parts of the country.

Employers, industry groups and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) are participating in the interactive social media campaign, #BuildAKL, designed to attract 4000 young people into Auckland's booming construction and infrastructure sector over the next year.

"This is a great initiative to bring organisations together and highlight the [employment] issue," says Pauline Brown, National Recruitment Manager for Downer Group and a member of the #BuildAKL campaign advisory group.

"We joined up not just for the placement [of workers] but to look at long-term branding and increasing the profile of the construction industry. Many young people don't understand the breadth and depth of the industry.

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"There are employment opportunities right across the industry from labour intensive roles through to senior management," says Brown. "There are more entry level roles and options to promote young people into the industry -- most companies will pay for training and development and put them through cadetships."

Brown says there's definitely a massive [labour] shortage in the Auckland market and it's not helped because it's costly to live in Auckland and people are leaving to go to the regions. "It's easier to recruit in the regions."

In Auckland alone, more than $18 billion is expected to be spent over the next decade on key capital projects, and some 400,000 new dwellings need to be built over the next 25 years to cater for the increased population as it nears 2.5 million.

A forecasted 32,000 new people will be required to work in the construction and infrastructure industry over the next few years. Projects such as the City Rail Link, New Zealand International Convention Centre, second harbour crossing, large five-star hotels and the big house building drive in Auckland have collided to produce a strong demand for skilled labour.

While backing local employment, apprenticeships and cadetships (including the Maori and Pasifika Trades Training programme), companies such as Downer are presently having to look overseas for skilled workers in specific roles.

Downer's recruitment team will be visiting the Philippines in the new year to hire staff with technical expertise such as grader drivers and concrete workers.

"We need people with two to five years of experience operating equipment -- that's where our [present] challenge is," says Brown.

Downer may also look at recruiting mid-management people from the United Kingdom and Canada later in the year. The group has about 400 roles to fill.

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"Our current workbook is very strong and it's going to increase once the digging starts on the City Rail Link," says Brown.

With 23,000 young Aucklanders not in employment, training or education, we want to lift the lid on the diverse range of job opportunities within the sector by using social media channels which are popular with under-25-year-olds.

She says Downer has put three groups through the apprentice training programme over the last six months. "We are investing in youth employment."

A Fletcher construction team has attended two employment expos in United Kingdom this year and hired about 60 skilled people from that process. In total, the company's construction division is aiming to hire 400 employees this year.

Fletcher Building's Chief People and Communications Officer Kate Daly says there has never been a better time to work in the industry.

"There is no doubt it is a competitive market for talent, and we counter this by being very active in recruitment of new employees and by being focused on retaining and developing good people we have already employed.

"Each year we invest millions of dollars in training and leadership development," she says.

Fletcher Building has a $3 billion backlog of work, and Daly says there are plenty of opportunities across all five business divisions and in the corporate head office.

She says each year Fletcher Building employs about 2000 employees from new graduates through to senior managers.

"As an integrated manufacturer and distributor of infrastructure and building products, we are always looking for good engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers, truck drivers, manufacturing managers, health and safety managers, and other building industry specialisations.

"What people may not realise is we also need professionals with legal, finance, procurement, supply chain, ITC and sales and marketing experience," says Daly.

"While it is a tough market, we are confident we can find the right people for the right roles as we are used to gearing up or down by as much as 20 per cent in the construction division."

Nancy McConnell, Hawkins Group's general manager corporate affairs, says one of the big things is getting young people to understand what the world of construction can offer them. It's no secret there's a skills shortage given the sustained [construction] boom.

"The important thing is to build awareness and present the opportunities for our young people."

Hawkins is taking on 16 cadets to complete a construction management programme and it had 160 applications. The group spent $1 million on training in Auckland in the past year, and it is mentoring 35 trainees and apprentices, men and women, in the trades that form the construction supply chain.

One of the first steps in the #BuildAKL campaign was to select 20 finalists who will compete for 10 four-week paid rotational work placements, starting in January. These young people will work with companies like iTraffic, Hawkins and Watercare and experience different areas of work ranging from traffic management design, water engineering to tunnelling and roading.

Their stories and experiences will be shared on Facebook @buildAKL in an effort to engage and interest more young people in the construction industry.

Patrick McVeigh, Ateed general manager business innovation and skills says the construction and infrastructure sector is a key driver of Auckland's economic growth.

"With 23,000 young Aucklanders not in employment, training or education, we want to lift the lid on the diverse range of job opportunities within the sector by using social media channels which are popular with under-25-year-olds," he says.

"The campaign showcases the diverse range of jobs available and highlights industry training opportunities and projects."

Technology advancements have also broadened the range of roles and expertise required including computer-aided design and engineering, and building information modelling which creates virtual reality models of buildings and other structures.