National training programme for brick and block sector

The Brick and Blocklayers Federation of New Zealand (BBFNZ) is introducing new initiatives to drive cohesiveness within the masonry trades, says chief executive Melanie McIver.

“Fragmentation has been an issue for the Federation, given we have 14 independent regional associations,
as well as the Masonry Manufacturers Council under our umbrella, with each setting their own meetings. While our networks support and learn from each other, the Federation is planning to introduce a nationwide training programme next year to ensure the same message is being delivered around the country.”

The training programme will cover a broad range of industry-related topics, including development of business skills; the implications of the new legislation; and best practice guide updates.

“A lot of our members are small to medium operators who don’t have time or the inclination to read new legislation such as the health and safety, or consumer regulations that have recently come into effect. As a Federation it is our job to interpret how the changes might impact on our members’ businesses and provide information and training around that.”

Melanie says the Federation is already providing several unique tools, including animated video clips and effective cartoon storyboards, which simplify the complex legislation into a format that is easily understood.

“We’re trying to get the messages out there in a fun, informative way, that people want to engage with.”

The Federation also plans to support its members with ongoing professional development to ensure the quality and standards of their operations are maintained.

“We want to ensure our members have the business skills to back up their trade skills, through general business management training and ensuring they have good quality quoting systems and contracts in place. We also encourage our members to look at how they respond structurally to growth and trends, to ensure they know when to expand if work is peaking, and how to modify their business if things get leaner.”

Bricklayer Bernie Caddick laying Austral bricks.

Bricklayer Bernie Caddick laying Austral bricks.

Skills shortage in masonry sector an issue

A skills shortage is another issue facing the sector, particularly in the top half of the North Island, says Melanie.

“We have recently applied to have masonry trades formally added to the skills shortage list. Although we are still focused on attracting more apprentices to the trade as part of long-term succession planning, we are unable to train new people to meet the immediate demand in regions such as Waikato and Auckland. This is why we are keen to encourage and assist businesses to engage migrant labour.”

With a strong cohort of Chinese companies in construction and architecture in these regions, the Federation has identified an opportunity to attract skilled Chinese brick and blocklayers to the industry to help bridge the gap.

“We are looking to work with other industry groups to run skill expos, and have already translated our best practice guide into Chinese. We would also consider running bulk training workshops for skilled Chinese tradesmen to ensure they understand the New Zealand Building Code standards before they start work.”

Running workshops for businesses around the employment of migrant workers is another possibility, she says.

New CEO brings new initiatives

BBFNZ was formed in 1966 to support and build the reputation of its members, and to help raise the profile of building in brick and block.

It now embraces all masonry tradespeople working in New Zealand, as well as manufacturers and suppliers of brick and block products.

A seven-member executive governs the Federation, with Melanie McIver, “a staunch advocate and promoter of the trade” brought in as its first full time chief executive two years ago.

Prior to taking up the role, Melanie worked for the Department of Building and Housing, where she played an integral part in the successful launch of the Licensed Building Practitioner Scheme.

Under her leadership, BBFNZ has effectively moved from being a representative group covering a number of trades, to a full industry body, which now also includes the manufacturing side of the sector.

“We are establishing ourselves as a collective community of our trade, working together as an industry to lift our skills and knowledge, to encourage better business practices and to improve our customers experience in working with us”.   

A new initiative under Melanie’s tenure has been the introduction of a ‘Brick Veneer Best Practice Guide’, which has brought together knowledge from aligned association tradespeople, manufacturers and distributors.

“This document is intended to set minimum workmanship quality standards for the trade, something we believe is the responsibility of the Federation as a professional industry body.”

A new BBFNZ website was launched in March 2015 to promote products and product releases, brick and blocklayer training events, and provide general information and stories of interest for members and anyone intending to use brick and block products.

Electronic newsletters are also regularly sent to members.

At the Federation’s annual conference and AGM in October last year, it introduced a new Brick and Block Industry Excellence Award, with the inaugural award presented jointly to Rick Mead and Steve Crossland, for their role in progressing the goals of the Federation through its expansion and introduction of new initiatives.

In January the Federation also relaunched The Silver Trowel award for the Brick and Blocklaying Apprentice of the Year.

“Firth Industries are the major sponsors of The Silver Trowel, and a lot of credit must go to Christy Thompson of Firth, whose drive and determination has been instrumental in the return of this award.”

The winner will have to demonstrate good regulatory knowledge and employee behaviours as well as excellent trade skills, says Melanie.

“Both of these awards set standards of excellence that are benchmarks for people working in the industry.

They also provide us with a means of celebrating and acknowledging the people who achieve that level of excellence.”

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