“There’s never been a better time to get into civil infrastructure.”

That’s the message from Connexis Chief Executive Kaarin Gaukrodger, who spoke to EPIC recently about the opportunities being created by the Government’s free trades training and apprenticeships fund.

The $320 million fund, announced as part of the Government’s COVID-19 relief package, aims to encourage more New Zealanders into vocational education and help people re-train in critical industries such as civil infrastructure. It is available to people of all ages and can cover the costs of trade training, as well as a business’ costs of taking on an apprentice.

“The financial incentive offered by the government creates a huge opportunity for people wanting to get into civil infrastructure. The Government is pumping more than $5 billion into civil infrastructure projects as part of its COVID-19 recovery, which includes fast tracking more than 150 shovel ready projects across New Zealand aimed at creating 20,000 new jobs,” Kaarin says.

In the civil infrastructure industry, trade training is typically done on the job – in the form of block courses or apprenticeship programmes for the people working to build New Zealand’s roading networks, water infrastructure bridges, airport infrastructure and building developments.

Kaarin says free trades training is a big deal for the next generation of civil infrastructure workers, who can earn while they learn and get paid to be recognised as skilled tradespeople without racking up huge student loans.

The free trades training scheme covers a range of certificate and diploma level courses, as well as civil infrastructure apprenticeships in roles ranging from roading and structural works to pipe construction and maintenance, and forestry earthworks. Most of the apprenticeships take two to three years to complete, at which time the relevant Level 4 Apprenticeship Qualification is issued, Kaarin says.

The apprenticeship experience
One of those doing an apprenticeship at the moment is Vena Tuipulotu. The Pipeline & Civil employee is undertaking Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeship in Pipeline Construction and Maintenance, specialising in Wastewater Treatment, having renounced his desk job as a truss and frame designer for a career “on the tools”.

“When I finished my engineering degree three years ago, I thought I’d like to be a structural engineer but I found out as a truss and frame designer that sitting in an office and staring at a screen wasn’t for me. I decided to join Pipeline and Civil with the idea that I can work my way up to be a project manager.”

A typical day on the job involves doing pipework, trenching and laying pipe, and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What I do now, I enjoy. I look at COVID and lots of people are losing their but to have job opportunities and free trades training available in the civil industry – that’s priceless.”

Another person making the most of the free trade training scheme is Vena’s manager Roy Winikeri. He has been in the industry for more than two decades but recently took the plunge and enrolled to do a Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeship in Pipeline Construction and Maintenance, specialising in Water Reticulation.

“I’ve been with Pipeline & Civil for 21 years, but for various reasons I haven’t had time to do my Level 4s. I 100% believe in the benefits of trade training and I know Pipeline & Civil does too. It’s a chance to polish off the skills I have gained over the years and back it up with a qualification.”

Roy says his prior learning and experience is recognised as part of the process. Gaining the qualifications will provide him with opportunities to further his career and experience new challenges.

“If you’ve been on the tools and shovels for a good part of your life you sometimes want to branch out. These qualifications are a chance to grow the mind and relax the body.”

Civil infrastructure is an industry he loves, especially the camaraderie and the contribution it makes to the running of major cities around New Zealand and the world.

“I like playing a role in providing the water supply for a big city. People don’t quite realise what is takes to get a litre of water through their tap, or what happens when you flush the toilet. The pipes we put in the ground could be there for over 100 years.”

A career for the future
Kaarin says formal apprenticeship pathways for civil infrastructure have been around since 2015 but have experienced “unprecedented” growth over the past year. This growth is expected to continue as more employers look to retain good people and increase productivity by investing in formal qualification training. More than 1,000 people were enrolled to do a civil infrastructure apprenticeship in December 2020; more than double the number of people enrolled in December 2019.

The opportunities in the industry are vast, and many workers branch out into other areas as they gain experience, Kaarin says. Those areas can include contract and project management, engineering or even move into other elements of infrastructure business such as human resources, safety, or accounting.

She says women have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, and trades training provides an opportunity for those interested to retrain in a career that has solid long-term prospects. One in 10 trade and technical apprentices were women in 2020, up from 3 per cent in 2010.

The average salary in the civil infrastructure industry is $73,000, and while most entry level roles begin on less than that, career progression can be rapid, she says.

“There’s a real shift in perception in attitude about what is a good option for people leaving school. It’s no longer just about going to university – if you get a trade behind you it will set you up for life. New Zealanders can’t travel right now because of COVID-19, so it’s a good time to gain some skills that you can take with you on your OE later on.”

Civil infrastructure career roadmap
Civil infrastructure and trades apprenticeships can be undertaken across all stages of your career. Who knows – one day you could be running your own civil contracting business?

Stage 1: Embark on an entry level role as a road construction worker, labourer, concrete worker, quarry worker, pipe layer, piler or directional driller, or business administration and support worker.

Stage 2: Use your skills, qualifications and experience as a team or site supervisor, plant operator, truck driver, landscaper, traffic controller or road marker. Or develop your skills as a crane operator, lab technician, survey or geotechnical engineering technician, draughtsperson, surveyor or mechanical maintenance worker.

Stage 3: Take charge of your career as an engineer, project or construction manager, health and safety manager, environmental manager, quantity surveyor or company director.

Want more information about free trades training, or assistance getting into a Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeship? Call a Connexis Infrastructure Industry Training Customer Service Account Manager (CSAM) on 0800 486 626 or visit connexis.org.nz for more information. For employment opportunities, check out the Resources section of the EPIC website.