PrefabNZ Logs4jobs – harnessing female talent.
For any new industry, skills are essential for future growth; and in the offsite sector, it seems there are three key reasons for critical skills issues:
- Ageing demographics in a SME dominated industry
- A swelling pipeline of construction demand
- An industry dominated by traditional practices
Construction and its related industries make up 10% of employment in New Zealand. As unemployment continues to drop and housing demand continues to rise, where are we going to find future workers and housing solutions?
All signs point to the need to attract more young technology-literate skilled people into the construction workforce. Offsite manufacture will require focused individuals and team-players who can translate building to an indoor assembly process. More digital tech and more lean manufacture are two starting points. I’m also predicting that we will need more women. I’m crazy about indoor, clean, warm and efficient workplaces – where do I sign up?
At the prefabAUS conference in September, we heard from Mark Farmer about how ageing UK construction workforce demographics will lead to a decrease in workers by 20-25% over the next 10 years, unless the industry modernises by taking up more indoor production methods. These might sound like grotesque and alarming numbers for the Brits, but we should be worried too. New Zealand and Australian businesses are dominated by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) of just 1-5 employees. Over 90% of construction businesses in NZ employ five or less people. What are our long-term investment and succession strategies – what’s yours?
“At the prefabAUS conference in September, we heard from Mark Farmer about how ageing UK construction workforce demographics will lead to a decrease in workers by 20-25% over the next 10 years, unless the industry modernises by taking up more indoor production methods. These might sound like grotesque and alarming numbers for the Brits, but we should be worried too.”
Pamela Bell, PrefabNZ CEO.
In New Zealand, the latest national building and construction forecast shows a higher peak with a longer duration than previously forecast. This means there is no shortage of work in the proverbial pipeline – and it is backed up by other intentions such as Auckland Council’s need for 400,000 homes over the next 30 years. Many readers will also be aware that the national social housing provider Housing NZ Corporation has declared an intention to procure 34,000 housing units across Auckland where the heart of affordable housing issues is located.
The key issue is of course that we are still building predominantly using traditional stick-based construction at site. This is despite an average uptake in NZ of over 30% for both residential and commercial buildings by component value being made from offsite fabricated parts. Site based construction can take 60% longer at site than offsite methods. Even though frames and trusses and precast concrete panels are all mainstream, we still have a long way to go to get enhanced prefabrication such as pre-lined and pre-clad wall panels taken up at a broad scale.
MBIE Construction Pipeline Report 2017
Spreading the word: the Logs4jobs video, which focuses on women in key areas of design and construction, continues to be distributed.
I believe there are three possible solutions to the skills riddle:
- Turning our focus to attracting younger and more tech-literate people.
- Helping make offsite an appealing option for women construction professionals.
- Grouping skills qualifications into smaller ‘stackable credentials’ which will allow for a manufacturing focus.
To demonstrate how the first point might be achieved, it’s worth highlighting the efforts of a tech savvy US millennial who has made a career in logging and is promoting his passion for his chosen career via new media. At 25 years old, Zackary Sheets runs a mobile computer-operated tree processor, which he views as a hybrid of hard-work and video games. He now has a presence on YouTube. Is it possible that the broader offsite construction industry might learn from this method of highlighting great individuals and having their authentic voices tell their stories?
At 25 years old, Zackary Sheets runs a mobile computer-operated tree processor, which he views as a hybrid of hard-work and video-games. He now has a presence on YouTube. Is it possible that the broader offsite construction industry might learn from this method of highlighting great individuals and having their authentic voices tell their stories?
Pamela Bell, PrefabNZ CEO.
Secondly, construction innovation industry association PrefabNZ led the making of a skills focused video called Logs4jobs which showcases four women working in each of the logging, architecture, fabrication and assembly aspects of the design and construction process. The video continues to be spread via partnerships with the Building Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO), CareersNZ, and the Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association (WPMA). It has also been up for two diversity-focused awards lately.
Thirdly, BCITO is exploring the idea of offering smaller specialist units of learning that mirror current business practices, as a way to grow their appeal to more apprentices and employers.
These ‘stackable credentials’ can be recognised in their own right, or added to at a later stage by other credentials that ‘stack’ into a full traditional qualification over time.
These smaller bites of learning are attempting to provide recognised certification for people whose roles do not attract full qualifications. It is hoped that these flexible learning paths to more specific qualifications will help address the massive skills shortage. We are currently looking at falling short by half the numbers of skills that are needed. BCITO traditionally completes about 12,000 apprentice qualifications over a five-year period, but recent estimates are that NZ will need more than twice as many trade qualified construction workers in the same timeframe.
It’s still a slightly frightening picture. But together we could all do a much better job in getting the message out further about what an exciting, energising, innovative, technology-focused, and digitally-disruptive industry construction can be when it fully grasps the potential of offsite.■