Connecting New Zealand

Bringing young people into civil construction: a contractor's perspective

17 Mar 2022

By Matt Bradbury, General Manager, Troy Wheeler Contracting

All too often we hear and say we have a skills shortage in our industry, can’t get good job applicants, can’t get staff and there are no skilled people to do the work. Then we finish the conversation and go back to work and carry on as normal.

Troy Wheeler Contracting did this regularly, until we started to work though the Civil Trades schemes with some of our staff. We soon realised we have no right to make comment on the skills shortage unless we assist in the development and upskilling of existing or new people into the industry.

We approached our local high school in Papakura, and made contact with their careers adviser. Asking what the options were for TWC to be involved with setting up some form of school leavers scholarship programme, specifically targeting to pupils that wanted a career in civil construction, or in the advisor’s view were likely drop out of school before finishing, or leave school for long term minimum wages due to family pressure to bring an income to the household. 

We met with the careers advisor and between us put the following rough outline of what the process may look like:

  • TWC gives a presentation to all pupils in the trades academy. Covering off who is TWC, what is the industry like, Civil Trades, EPIC, photos of the work, pay levels of career progression, and who is this guy Matt, with how my story started scraping bitumen off the inside of bitumen tankers.
  • What TWC was offering for the scholarships (full time employment, 12 weeks on base work with in-house training, inductions, competency assessments, then after 12 weeks start at level 2 Civil Trades.)
  • Questions from the floor
  • Finished off with the CV / application process

It was a huge eye opener for me giving this talk. There was hope in the room, there were smart asses, and there were a few kids who looked broken. A lot of reflection on the drive home.

Soon after the talk we were hit by the last level 4 lockdown, which stalled the process. However come early December we had four applicants. Their 'CV’s' were not related to work or schooling as we already knew the people did not have work experience - they were instead answers to five questions we had written up that we wanted to have answers to. The key was what a scholarship in civil construction would mean to the person and their family. 

Other questions were: What interests you about a career in civil construction? What challenges or barriers do you think will restrict you from achieving your own personal employment aspirations? What is your inspiration and driving force? Some pretty personal questions here but we got back very good responses, and based on the submissions we were prepared to bring on three of the four submissions.

Interview day! The pupils were to attend the interviews with there a family member, we wanted here to also show the family how import this role was to TWC, and how the pupil could have a well-paid career for life, but would need family support while young to get off to a good start.

Three were due to interview, and two turned up, with one MIA! Both were offered the scholarship at the interview, provided with some gear to say congratulations on the process and making the team. Both came back within three days (which was the last week of work for December) and confirmed that they would accept the job / scholarship. We then sent out the employment contracts which were signed and retuned before Xmas, with a start date of 11 Jan.

January 7, we made contract with both pupils to ensure they were all set for a January 11 start date, both confirmed all was on track. Come 10 Jan, we could only get a hold of one, and the second ghosted us, making contact later in the week via text saying they had decided to take on another job, which was extremely frustrating given the effort and process the joint team had already invested. I reframed from expressing my truly feelings here, as not to scar him for life.

Our remaining candidate competed his first week, we teamed him up with our Tongan supervisor to ensure he was comfortable and in a familiar environment for his first four weeks of work. Into the second week I received a call from the candidate's mother. James and his family were so happy with this role that they wanted to see if we could interview his cousin to come on board. The very next day at 6:30am we were interviewing James’ cousin called Cecil. Cecil started with TWC the following week. This was a very good outcome.

Since 11 Jan, both James and Cecil have undertaken the following with TWC:

  • All our client inductions to allow freedom of movement between site
  • Small hand tool training
  • Spotter training and assessments
  • ConstructSafe certs
  • Leading a team toolbox.

As an employer I can see potential for these two young men, I also know that for them to see a potential in TWC and a civils career we need to continue to invest in them, and continue to invest in all our staff as we already do.

We can’t look to others to solve the skill shortage. We as individual companies already have ability to help mitigate this issue, we just need to take the step and do it with what works for us.




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