By CCNZ chief executive, Peter Silcock
Could the 2020s be the decade of major infrastructure investment in New Zealand?
The government recently announced a $12 billion injection into major infrastructure projects, and political parties have begun unveiling their election year policies, with spending on transport at the forefront of debates.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson revealed $6.8 billion of the budget will go towards new transport projects, with an emphasis on improving roading and rail.
The spending has been welcomed by many in the industry, including influential advocacy group Civil Contractors New Zealand (CCNZ).
CCNZ’s chief executive, Peter Silcock says it was positive news for New Zealanders after years of under-investment.
“Over the years we’ve witnessed a lack of investment in infrastructure by successive governments,” he says.
“This boost in investment will provide communities, which have been calling for improved transport infrastructure, with the services they need.”
However, Peter says he is still concerned with the trend of political parties announcing major infrastructure investments prior
“Election year promises don’t necessarily result in action.
“These major projects require careful planning to produce sustainable infrastructure and to sustain the civil construction industry.”
CCNZ represents more than 600 organisations in the industry – including small to large businesses in civil engineering, construction and general contracting.
It provides strong advocacy for member businesses, representing their interests and aspirations at a local and national level.
CCNZ has a close relationship with government, regularly providing input into consultation processes, working groups and select committee hearings.
Peter says he was pleased major projects – such as Transmission Gully near Wellington, the Kaikoura highway rebuild following the 2016 earthquakes, and the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway project near Auckland – were coming to fruition. However, he wants further action taken by the government.
“Quality infrastructure can make a significant difference in people’s lives, providing benefits such as reduced congestion and improved safety on our roads, as well as allowing us to take efficient public transport and travel across the country.
“The time to invest in our infrastructure is now. Not only to benefit our cities, towns and rural communities, but also to provide continuity of employment for civil construction workers, many of whom require up to five years of training.”
The fourth edition of the Government Procurement Rules, introduced late last year, signalled a fundamental change in procurement from lowest price to best outcomes.
Significantly for those contracting on government projects, the changes help to ensure project risk is shared more equally between people hiring contractors and the contractors themselves.
The new rules also encourage skills development by rewarding companies investing in their employees by engaging in training.
Peter says the changes promoted a shift towards hiring civil trades apprentices and training skilled workers, for positive social and economic outcomes, rather than simply procuring the cheapest options available.
“It’s a positive step forward and one which we hope will play an important role in shaping a more sustainable and sensible approach to procurement in the decade ahead.”
The industry places importance on inspiring and training the next generation of skilled construction workers.
At present, a high proportion of people working in civil construction complete their training in-house rather than at universities, polytechnics or training providers.
“In some cases, vocational training pathways for people working in our industry are non-existent. We are working with the Tertiary Education Commission and wider construction industry to change this through the Reform of Vocational Education.
“The degree/diploma route for civil engineering works fine, but we need to establish civil as more of a recognised trade career pathway, similar to builders, plumbers or electricians.
“That’s part of why we launched the Civil Trades Apprenticeships in 2015 – to help skilled professionals could have their skills recognised.
“We’re also looking to shift perceptions of work in the civil construction industry. Many people don’t realise the skills required, the significance and job satisfaction in the projects, or the opportunities for career progression available in our industry.”
The EPIC Careers in Infrastructure website (www.epicwork.co.nz) was launched by CCNZ in 2018 to shift public perception of working in infrastructure.
The EPIC campaign aims to inspire the next generation to take up careers in infrastructure, through engaging videos, articles about opportunities in the industry, profiles of civil construction workers and the many perks of the job.
This includes the story of Ruby Farebrother – a rock access technician working to re-open roads following the Kaikoura earthquake — who speaks about the ever-changing and engaging work environment, the “sensational” views and “the daily procession of dolphins” seen from her worksites in North Canterbury.
Peter says opportunities for a rewarding career, coupled with increased government investment, make civil infrastructure an appealing industry to work in.
“The decade ahead looks bright, particularly if the growing list of election year promises come to fruition and critical decisions
on infrastructure investment can be made quickly.”
Health and safety was another area continuing to grow in prominence. Peter says the safety of workers was now near the top of the priority list for most civil construction companies, and those not demonstrating sound health and safety practices were unlikely to win contracts.
To make life easier for members, CCNZ had developed a range of helpful guidelines, including the Manual Traffic Controllers’ Handbook and the Safe Handling of Bituminous Materials Used for Roading. These are offered at a discount for CCNZ members, along with other quality control documents and a soon-to-be released environmental guide.
CCNZ technical committees provide input to how standards and codes of practice – like the Code of Practice for Temporary Traffic Management – are composed and implemented.
“We are active in areas such as bitumen, aggregate, asphalt, environmental, pavement and surfacing, excavation, and many other facets of the industry,” he says.
This year’s CCNZ National Conference will be held in Wellington from 30-31 July, tackling issues that affect all contractors head-on, through direct dialog with politicians and officials in the midst of election campaigns.