Female staff key to success of country’s critical infrastructure projects

benstevens News, Ultimit / Women in Infrastructure

Wellington, 1 June 2022:  Critical infrastructure projects throughout New Zealand are facing a severe staffing shortage and women are part of the answer.

This is according to Kaarin Gaukrodger, director of Connexis, infrastructure training  provider.  “For example less than 14 percent of New Zealand’s civil construction workforce are women, and the sector’s business owners say finding skilled workers remains its biggest challenge.

“Those types of discrepancies across the country’s infrastructure sector demonstrate a clear need to promote the full range of infrastructure jobs in a way that makes them appealing to women.”

And that is the purpose of Connexis’s annual Girls with Hi-Vis® (GWHV) campaign, offering hundreds of female students the opportunity for hands-on, onsite experience of a wide variety of infrastructure jobs throughout the country.

This year GWHV has a record number of businesses wanting to be involved. Host companies include: HEB Construction, Fletcher Construction, Higgins, Downer NZ, Schick Civil Construction, Waiotahi Contractors, Civtec, Fulton Hogan, Watercare, Marlborough Lines Ltd, Citycare Water, Citycare Property, Nor West Contracting, CPB Contractors, Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, John Fillmore Contracting Ltd and Geotechnics.  They will be holding events throughout the country in June.

Gaukrodger says the skills shortage is the biggest challenge facing not only civil, but also the energy, telecommunications and three water sectors.

“The country has a huge pipeline of infrastructure projects, predicted to require tens of thousands of additional workers over the next five years. These are projects like building and repairing major roads, upgrading water pipes, maintaining power lines and delivering faster fibre, that are essential to keeping New Zealand running.

“Without a matching pipeline of skilled workers those projects are at risk of major delays or even failure.  Women remain a largely untapped pool of potential talent for infrastructure businesses.

“By showcasing the potential of the sector to women career seekers we can build the workforce required to complete key projects, grow local infrastructure companies and contribute to the country’s strategic goals in areas like carbon emissions, sustainability and climate.”

Connexis arranges, delivers, supports, and assesses work-based learning for the infrastructure industries as a division of Te Pūkenga’s Work Based Learning subsidiary, New Zealand’s largest tertiary education provider. The sector includes energy, telecommunications and 3waters as well as civil construction.

“The high interest from businesses in this year’s Girls with Hi-Vis® indicates that the industry recognises the benefit of diversity within teams and the opportunity to address the critical skills shortage that is presented by recruiting for women,” says Gaukrodger.

“The challenge now is ensuring women are provided the opportunity to gain a clear picture of all the employment opportunities available and where that can take them in a career.”

GWHV demonstrates to young women the wide range of infrastructure jobs they can do, and build a career on – using practical skills that often involves being out in the elements.

A high number of companies participating in this year’s GWHV come from the civil construction sector. Recent data from Infometrics shows that just 13.9% of that sector’s workforce are women, compared to 46.8% nationally. Meanwhile, a 2021 Construction Industry Survey for Civil Contractors New Zealand and Teletrac Navman found 50% of civil construction business owners said generating a skilled workforce was the biggest challenge their business faced; 80% placed it in the top three challenges.

“If we are to have any hope of meeting that number we must recruit more diversity into the sector and that includes women,” Gaukrodger says.

“It’s not just about filling jobs. By actively trying to build a more diverse workforce, we are bringing in fresh perspectives that create opportunity for innovation. The infrastructure sector will need innovative thinking and new ideas as we tackle some of those ‘big picture’ challenges around sustainability and the environment.”

For a full list of Girls with Hi-Vis® events, inspirational work stories and open day information visit connexis.org.nz/careers/girls-high-vis/