This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives, December 2021
As Connexis sheds its Industry Training Organisation (ITO) status and shifts into national vocational education provider Te Pūkenga, the results of our past successes are set to be channelled into a new grant scheme to benefit the infrastructure industries.
For Connexis, 2022 will be focussed on two areas. Firstly, shoring up a legacy that upholds the core tenets of its former entity, Infrastructure Industry Training Organisation (IITO). Secondly, using our new status, as a business division of Te Pūkenga subsidiary Work Based Learning Limited (WBL), to deliver on the outcomes of RoVE through increased training support to employers and learners in the industries of Civil, Energy, Telco and Water.
As an ITO, Connexis was gazetted as the national skill setting body for the infrastructure industry, including facilitating work-based learning to build towards a sustainable supply of skilled workers. The past 18 months have delivered a combination of reduced costs from restricted operations due to COVID-19 and strong growth in trainee numbers. The latter is the result of the government’s COVID recovery response which includes initiatives that provide free trades training and a wage subsidy to employers.
The Connexis legacy
The subsequent operating surplus generated, sits with IITO but will soon be transferred to a newly created Infrastructure Education and Training Charitable Trust, administered by the Public Trust. The trust will be able to grant up to $1 million annually toward infrastructure industry training.
Pull quote: “Our hope is the grants will be used for things like new technologies; projects that will help ensure we continue to grow an effective workforce with the right competencies to meet industry requirements now and in the future.” – IITO Board Chair Brian Warren
The bulk of that funding will be available for big picture projects designed to strengthen infrastructure education and training in New Zealand. Organisations will also be able to apply for grants for training scholarships to help underserved learners into vocational education for a career in infrastructure, with $150,000 ring-fenced each year for this purpose.
An advisory panel, made up of representatives from across the infrastructure and educational sectors, will meet twice a year to assess applications for funding and distribute grants.
While IITO will be wound up, the Infrastructure Education and Training Charitable Trust ensures its cash reserves will have lasting benefits.
Our IITO Board Chair Brian Warren says that “The aim of the trust is to continue to support and facilitate educational training across infrastructure – that’s civil, energy, telco and water,”.
Investing in new ideas
Infrastructure organisations with projects or initiatives aligned both with these goals and those of the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), will be eligible for grants.
Brian continues, “our hope is the grants will be used for things like new technologies; projects that will help ensure we continue to grow an effective workforce with the right competencies to meet industry requirements now and in the future,”.
The challenge in writing the trust grant requirements was to be specific enough to offer guidance for the advisory panel, while being generic enough to attract interesting, forward-thinking projects. If we made it too constrained and specific, the grants risk becoming irrelevant if the landscape changes.
Brian clarifies, “the grants aren’t about the betterment of any one person, or for “business as usual” projects. They’re about improving the infrastructure workforce in New Zealand. We’ve tried to paint the side lines, or the boundaries of what that is, rather than the centre line.”
Te Pūkenga and Waihanga Ara Rau (the Workforce Development Council that sets qualification standards for construction and infrastructure) will have representatives on the Trust’s advisory panel, along with Civil Contractors NZ, Water NZ, the Electricity Engineers Association, and Māori and student representation.
We expect the first grants to be allocated by mid-2022, with announcements coming early next year on how and when organisations can apply.
As Brian says, “this is a fantastic opportunity for IITO to leave a legacy for the future that is actually going to improve New Zealand Inc.,”.
The Connexis of today, and into the future
While the grants are an important legacy of Connexis as an ITO, the Connexis brand and business live on, and have many other assets that provide a strong foundation on which to move into the future with Te Pūkenga and help achieve the goals of RoVE.
Connexis does more than support learners and employers with infrastructure training. We act as an industry cheerleader, highlighting the opportunities offered by infrastructure careers and reaching out to diverse groups.
There has been an increase from 3% to 10% female representation of infrastructure trainees since Ultimit: Women in Infrastructure was established 10 years ago. Girls with HiVis®, where employers run open days for high school girls, is also gaining momentum, seeing its highest ever levels of participation, by both employers and schools, in 2021. Twenty-three workplaces opened their doors to 539 students from 64 schools in 11 regions.
The government has signalled a shift in emphasis towards more work based learning within the tertiary sector. Connexis has taken heed and we are strengthening our offering to schools. As well as developing a new schools toolkit, from early next year Connexis will offer micro-credentials through Gateway. This will mean high school students doing work experience with an infrastructure company through Gateway will not only earn credits towards NCEA but will also achieve tertiary credits which could be put toward an apprenticeship or other trades training programmes.
We understand the importance of clear career pathways, through formalised qualifications, in attracting and retaining workers. Connexis deliviered the first Civil Infrastructure Apprenitceship qualifications in 2015, and in partnership with Civil Contractors New Zealand, launched the Civil Trade Certification regime (CTC). This was a significant milestone for the civil construction workforce as it finally provided formal recognition of civil construction as a skilled trade.
At Connexis, we are proud to ahve been able to deliver this in partnership with the civil industry.
Forging ahead under a new banner
Having moved early to transition into Te Pūkenga, we can now look ahead to build further on these past successes. Connexis joined WBL on 1 September 2021. Our Connexis Board could see we could achieve the best outcomes by working with and within the new structure. We worked really closely with the RoVE team to get the best outcomes for the learners in our sector.
The Te Pūkenga network brings with it important benefits. There will be more flexibility for learners to switch between on-job, campus-based and online learning. And because we are plugged into a large provider training network there will be more capacity to evolve training options to meet changing industry needs and provide a more structured and supported learner journey that will benefit both our learners and employers.
Through Te Pukenga, we will look to increase training support with more options, clear training pathways into industry, ongoing career choices for learners, and greater pastoral support especially for currently underserved learners including Māori, Pasifika, disabled learners and women.
By working with our colleagues at Te Pūkenga to continually develop and add to our existing tools we will start to close that skills gap between the industry skills we have, and the skills industry needs to be productive and meet New Zealand’s current and future infrastructure demands.
As part of a larger organisation we’ll have the critical mass required to make an impact on that all important issue of skills shortages and build the sustainable workforce the infrastructure sector needs.
Addressing those skills shortages and building a strong infrastructure workforce will be essential as New Zealand meets the ongoing challenges of Covid-19. Brian Warren now sits on the Te Pūkenga Work-Based Learning Subsidiary Board and says
“Infrastructure spend was, and still is, one of the mainstays for our recovery coming out of the Covid disruption. Then you have the fact that New Zealand has either outgrown or worn out a lot of its fundamental infrastructure, and our environmental approach to wastewater and landfills is changing”.
It all emphasises the importance of being able to have education and training that is responsive and relevant to meet the evolving needs of industry.
Further detail about IITO is available on the Connexis website: https://www.connexis.org.nz/about/iito/. This will be updated in the new year with more information about Infrastructure Education and Training Charitable Trust and how organisations can apply for grants.