Getting what you pay for

by Helmut Modlik, CEO, Connexis

 By the time you read this, the Civil Trades regime will have launched, including recognition of the first group of certified Civil Trades people with others expected to enrol in early 2016. It is timely therefore to raise an important related subject that hasn’t had a lot of airtime to date, but it’s time to start the conversation. I’m talking about the pay implications of the Civil Trades regime.The Civil Trades regime will raise the standard of training and confirmed competence of the civil workforce, in particular those who become Certified Civil Trades people. These tradesmen and women will be competent to deliver higher quality, less rework and safer outcomes for their employers and infrastructure owners. They will, in short, be quicker, better and more productive constructors.

A key figure behind the development of the Civil Trades regime – John Bryant – made these observations to me when he shared an experience some years ago building two bridges involving two different groups of workers. One involved a large group of relatively un/semi-skilled workers and the other a smaller group of highly skilled and experienced men. The difference in the speed, quality and profitability of the two builds was so graphic, that it led John to a strongly held view that the second approach is how the civil industry should always work, and hence his support for the development of the Civil Trades regime.

The lesson John learned is that those who know why and how always deliver better than those who only know how. Skilled trades people know why, and respond better to varying situations, requiring less supervision and inspection. Working with qualified, more highly skilled and productive people results in improved outcomes, including financial outcomes for employers and infrastructure owners alike. The question is, what will it mean for the civil trades people who deliver those outcomes?

The answer is of course that they will be duly rewarded, variously determined by the market and their employer. There’s nothing new or surprising in that observation or the related thought that you get what you pay for. The better and more highly skilled a worker, the more they generally earn. An inevitable result of the launch of Civil Trades therefore, is that a market value for certified trades people will emerge. Employers should anticipate and consider this.

Investing for improved productivity is nothing new to contractors of course. An outstanding recent example is the satellite-based, GPS surveying technology used on the M2PP project in the lower North Island. While the cost of the technology’s deployment has been hundreds of thousands of dollars, the direct and indirect benefits have been millions of dollars already. It’s so successful, that it is highly likely to be replicated on other projects by other contractors in due course.

The point is that contractors are used to investing when the returns outweigh the costs, and this is just as true with our workforce as it is with our equipment. Employers who consider the return available from making a sound investment in their people’s training and qualification, will reap the benefits. The Civil Trades regime has been developed precisely for that purpose, ie, to ensure their training investment is “sound”.

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Employers will invest in qualified tradespeople will reap the returns

There are also wider issues around the emergence of the Civil Trades regime and pay levels of civil trades people. The Civil Trades regime will create a career path and market value for Certified Civil Tradesmen and women. This will increase the attractiveness of the industry and average industry skill levels – both by improving the retention of the existing workforce and by attracting new, increasingly capable people to the industry.

It is vital that we don’t ignore the need to attract and retain good people in our industry. The existing civil workforce is an aging workforce, and characterised by shortages in key areas. The Civil Trades will help by making trade training and careers more attractive and accessible to employees. Remuneration is also an important incentive for people to better themselves, and when combined with development opportunities and a structured career pathway, creates an attractive environment for people to join and stay in the industry.

This is vital, as there is a shrinking cohort of young people to choose from, and strong competition for them from other industries and sectors. If we are to successfully attract the right number and calibre of young people, we need to provide real opportunities, a structured career pathway and income potential.

Facing these challenges is the responsibility of individual employers and the wider industry. Creating a more productive and attractive industry will require investment in our workforce, and must begin with a shift in our thinking about what we pay our best people, in future they will be Certified Civil Trades people.

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