Recruitment activity in New Zealand’s civil contracting industry certainly experienced a monumental shift in focus in 2015, says Jason Walker, managing director of Hays in New Zealand.
Civil jobs are still booming but it is land development, not SCIRT (Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team) work, that is now underpinning job activity.
Off the back of the SCIRT civil workload, our civil jobs market has been very active over recent years. During this period there’s certainly been an abundance of work and high demand for skilled civil professionals. But we’re now starting to see a slowdown in SCIRT jobs, with the major civil projects forecast to conclude by the end of 2016.
Vacancy activity will remain high in the civil jobs market though as civil projects resulting from the expanding residential and commercial construction sectors across the country take the place of SCIRT work. Land developments and subdivisions, especially in Auckland as well as on the outskirts of major cities, now underpin the civil market.
In addition, commercial property developers have committed to large scale projects in Auckland, which is adding to the active market.
There’s also movement in the three waters sector of the market as subdivisions create more infrastructure needs.
We’re also started to see – and this will be even more apparent in 2016 – growth in demand due to pending government infrastructure projects. Add the strengthening of existing buildings and large infrastructure projects such as new roads and bridges, and civil remains a very active market for jobs in New Zealand.
As a result we continue to see high demand for a range of civil professionals. However the challenge remains the ongoing shortage of experienced professionals, especially at the intermediate level.
In terms of specific skills in demand, quantity surveyors with relevant experience are needed. While there are a lot of entry-level candidates, there is an acute shortage of candidates with experience. Estimators with New Zealand experience are also sought. Many estimators move out of this role, adding to the candidate shortage. For this same reason, we’re also seeing a shortage of senior estimators in the market.
Demand is equally high for engineers at the intermediate level. A reduction in the number of students studying civil engineering several years ago has led to today’s shortage. In particular demand are candidates with design and infrastructure experience in highways, roading, three waters and land development. Such skills are needed nationwide.
Project engineers are sought too for civil projects, while geotechnical engineers are needed to manage ongoing earthwork, foundation design and investigation across the country. Mechanical and electrical building services engineers are also sought. This is due to national fit-out and refurbishment work across the nation, linked with commercial office space and government-related projects and seismic building-strengthening work.
Land surveyors are needed due to national land development and infrastructure project work for housing developments, subdivision work and also private developers. We’ve also seen the demand for transportation engineers increase with a lot of new projects resulting from subdivisions in the North Island. Structural revit drafters are in strong demand as projects are nearing sign off, while intermediate structural seismic engineers with New Zealand experience are sought.
Civil trades and labour is also needed, especially ticketed machine operators and New Zealand registered plumbers, electricians and civil certified drain layers. This demand will increase given the amount of subdivision work underway, large roading projects and earthworks.
In other trends, we’re seeing higher demand for candidates with 3D software skills as this has become an industry standard, but there is a shortage of candidates in this area.
Cultural fit has also become more important to employers when they recruit. That’s why employers now ask for a candidate with not only the necessary technical skills but also the right cultural fit. They are also more willing to consider overseas candidates, especially those from Australia, due to local candidate shortages.
Another trend is that contracting is being seen as a viable long-term career option for candidates across the entire construction and property market, rather than an occasional opportunity. Candidates are aware of the ongoing demand for their skills and the broader range of experience and contacts they can gain from contract work.
Looking ahead, during 2016 we expect salaries to be pushed up in response to our skill shortage. We also expect employers will come to recognise that more of a concerted industry-wide effort needs to be made to attract young people into a civil career. One way to do this is by promoting apprenticeships.
The BCITO, the largest provider of construction trade apprenticeships in New Zealand, provides a gateway guide for schools to promote apprenticeships and provides information to careers advisors and teachers supporting pathways into the industry. However despite this, scholarships and awards in colleges are still heavily biased towards recognising students moving on to degree courses.
Although it is improving, there is still a great deal of work to be done around actively promoting apprenticeships through scholarships and awards, similar to what is occurring with graduate courses.
A programme to reduce the stigma attached to vocational training over university study would also help attract more young people into the industry. Interestingly, the Christchurch rebuild, and the ongoing employability of many tradies during the downturn, has helped to reduce the stigma over the past two to three years. People have seen that tradespeople were still needed during the downturn while many degree-qualified professionals saw the demand for their skills drop.
In addition, most people know of at least one person who has graduated in softer disciplines, such as fine arts or social sciences, who struggled to find work in their field. In our increasingly technologically sophisticated world of work, apprenticeships are delivering entry-level candidates who are job-ready, so in 2016 we hope the industry does more to promote apprenticeships to young people as this will help ease the skill shortage long-term.