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BCITO is raising awareness among employers about the benefits of hiring women, helping them to attract a more diverse workforce

Building future skills for construction – By Warwick Quinn

The number of Kiwis taking up building and construction apprenticeships has reached record high numbers, but we still have a long way to go to meet the demand of the sector.

We recently reached 13,000 apprentices in active training at the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) – our highest number ever. Our 13,000th apprentice is 30-year-old Tioirangi Smith who previously worked in hospitality and is now a carpentry apprentice for SLC Builders in the Wellington area.

It’s a great achievement and shows we are moving in the right direction to grow the number of skilled tradespeople in New Zealand. Although we are seeing a positive shift, there is still more work to be done.

Employment forecasts estimate 80,000 new and replacement construction jobs opening in the next five years. This means we still need many more people to start formal training now, if we are to match New Zealand’s demand. Government, industry and vocational providers are working on multiple fronts to address training needs.

We have been working hard to attract more women into the industry. Even though women make up half of New Zealand’s population, they comprise only 3% of the building and construction sector. If we’re to have any chance of meeting demand, businesses need to look beyond the usual ‘go-to’ groups when recruiting.

The Women in Trades research looked at some of the key barriers to women entering the trades. These include lack of knowledge about opportunities and pathways, lack of work experience, finding employers willing to work with women, male-dominated workplace culture, and the lack of sector or workplace support for women.

At BCITO, we are leading a significant cross-sector project to increase the number of women in construction trades roles and have set ourselves some ambitious goals, including having women make up 10% of BCITO apprentices by 2025.

Opportunities for women

The research told us that there was a lack of understanding about the opportunities for women in the trades. The trades can be as financially rewarding as getting a university degree, allowing women to earn as they learn and offer a fantastic work-life balance. Female school-leavers who enter apprenticeships earn $145,000 more than their university counterparts by the age of 30.

What this research tells us is that there is room to share success stories of our female apprentices wider to educate more women on the opportunities within a trades career, and help them see there are other women out there already reaping the benefits. There are many specialisations in the trades, and they don’t all involve being on the tools all the time. If women were more aware of these opportunities, they could see rich career opportunities they might like to pursue.

The trades can be as financially rewarding as getting a university degree, allowing women to earn as they learn

We also have a big opportunity to raise awareness among employers about the benefits of hiring women and help them attract a more diverse workforce. Women offer a new way of thinking, they’re good problem-solvers, and help bring diversity to a male-dominated industry.

Our website has many resources that educate employers on inclusiveness and diversity, and we offer specialist tools, including a dedicated job-matching service, to help them reach a wider pool than perhaps they usually would.

Changing perceptions

Perceptions of trades are slowly changing, but more needs to be done across education, industry and at home to speed up the pipeline. School students, school-leavers, parents and caregivers are all showing more positive attitudes to building careers this year compared to the last two.

The biggest change in perception has been among Maori and Pasifika communities, whose positive perceptions have improved 8% and 17% respectively in the past year. Across all groups, school students are 6% more positive, parents/caregivers 7% more positive, and school-leavers are about the same.

The NZ government’s new education-to-employment brokerage service, funding for more trades-focused ‘speed-dating’ events to connect schools with employers, and a promotional campaign to raise the profile of vocational education are all measures that will help young people and those who influence them see the benefits of a building career.

BCITO has been working hard to change perceptions, so it is great to have the government working in partnership with industry, and we hope families, educators and employers will join the effort to get more students into trades. We ran a successful television campaign called ‘Tricky Chat’, producing a shift in parental attitudes because education snobbery continues to be a problem.

Too many school students and their parents are overlooking this important growth sector. There are multiple career options, including tiling, flooring, painting, joinery and carpentry. Our apprentices are setting themselves up for a bright future. Their jobs can be just as financially rewarding as getting a university degree, apprentices can earn while they learn, and trades offer a good work-life balance.

Changes to vocational training

Another area of change is in vocational training, which needs to be modernised so we can be more responsive to employer and learner needs. The government’s Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) announced earlier this year disestablishes the 11 industry training organisations (ITOs).

They will be replaced by:

  • • A new centralised delivery agency, the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST) – a merger of the 16 institutes of technology and polytechs – which will be responsible for all classroom, digital and on-job learning
  • • Workforce development councils (WDCs) which will be responsible for the development of qualifications, standard setting, skills leadership, brokerage and industry advocacy (the WDC functions and the arranging of on-job training are current ITO activities).

The government is currently consulting on the makeup and coverage of each WDC. After Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announces this in December 2019, the industry will need to determine how it will be governed. The transition from the current regime to the new one under RoVE is anticipated to take until December 2022. By that time, all WDCs will be in place and all work-based training will have transitioned from ITOs to the new national institute.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual.

Meeting future needs

Given how rapidly the nature of work is changing, work-integrated learning is going to be an increasingly important part of making sure students are ready for the future of work. All qualifications remain, and everyone entering an apprenticeship will be able to complete their currently enrolled programme as planned. Qualifications are controlled by the industry and are updated regularly – no change there.

Across multiple areas, we need to work together to increase the pipeline of skilled building and construction workers in order to meet the future needs of New Zealand.

Warwick Quinn is the chief executive of the Building & Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO)



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