A new hands-on training course is helping Kiwi job seekers gain the skills and confidence they need to take their first steps into the civil construction industry.

Run by Waikato-based training provider Civil Training Licensing NZ, the Introduction to Civil Construction course is completely fees-free for participants thanks to funding support from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

“We only started it in August last year but already we’ve run eight or nine intakes and put through 80-odd people,” says Kris Fannin, owner of Civil Training Licensing NZ.

The course is run out of a training centre in Cambridge that is designed to look and feel exactly like a real work site. The centre has a Portacom and shipping containers for lessons and briefings, and a yard packed with a wide array of civil construction equipment.

“We’ve tried to make it as lifelike as possible,” Kris says. “We also go out of our way to take people off site and get them involved in real jobs around the region.”

Each intake takes one month to complete, with participants attending from 8am until 3-4pm, Monday to Friday. During that time, they learn key skills and obtain core civil construction accreditation and licenses including Wheels, Tracks and Rollers, Workplace First Aid, ConstructSafe and forklift driver license endorsement.

They also learn about pre-start checks, stockpiling materials, digging trenches, surveying and boxing up footpaths, as well as Job Safety Analysis (JSAs), incident and accident reporting, toolbox meetings and the induction process.

Kris has been in the civil construction industry for 24 years – the past eight years as a trainer, as well as an operator. He says many other New Zealand courses are less hands on, while others are broader in their focus and do not adequately address the specific needs of the civil construction industry.

“We’ve focused on making the course 90-95 per cent practical and we are getting wicked results from that. Once participants are inducted and have had their safety briefings, they are straight onto the machines – it’s hands-on practical training, not just sitting in a classroom.”

Another drawcard for the course is that it is free for those taking part. MSD funding covers course fees, along with PPE such as hard hats, steel cap work boots and Hi-vis vests. Participants are required to look after their own PPE and at the end of the course they get to take it with them.

“Looking after the gear is all part of the learning. We help course participants as much as we can with industry skills, and there’s also some life skills being learnt too.”

Kris says the majority of those taking part are job seekers who have been made aware of the course by their Work and Income New Zealand case manager. They come from all walks of life and are all ages and genders. Around one in five course participants so far have been female.

“There’s been a shortage of workers in civil construction for 10 years and that has only got worse due to COVID-19. We have seen quite a few people lose work because of COVID and it has also forced many employers to develop people locally because they can’t bring them in from overseas.”

Matamata’s Searne Shepherd is one of the many course participants who have found work after finishing Introduction to Civil Construction. He joined Tauranga’s MAP Projects as a general hand in February after completing the course’s January intake.

He had a job as a factory worker at a frozen chicken plant in Waharoa but decided to give the civil construction course a go after a family friend who works for WINZ mentioned it to him.

“I had never really driven machinery before but it’s something I was interested in. I learnt a lot from Kris’ course and he explained things really well … everyone got along and it was different every day.”

He likes the outdoor nature of his new role with MAP Projects and is currently working on a site at Tatuanui in the Waikato. “I enjoy it – driving Moxies, diggers and rollers.”

Kris says seeing people like Searle get a start in the industry is immensely satisfying. Around 85 per cent of those who complete the course go on to start civil construction careers – a statistic he says is down to the hard work of the attendees, as well as the programme’s growing connections with civil construction industry businesses and recruiters in the Waikato and across New Zealand.

“The opportunities within the civil construction industry are phenomenal. You don’t have to be a machine operator… in civil there are about nine different things you can get into. There are opportunities extending far out in front of you and the world is your oyster.”

Kris says Civil Training Licensing NZ will work towards offering the programme in other regions of New Zealand in the months ahead. In addition to Introduction to Civil Construction, the company also provides on-site training for civil construction, quarrying and agriculture businesses nationwide.

“I’ve got a lot of love for the industry and I run a 24/7 operation. If a contractor calls me at midnight and wants me to run training the next day, I’m all in.”

Other training providers include Training and Assessment Solutions, Axiom Training, ATD Services, Assess It and CivilTrain, which also offers e-learning modules for specialist skills such as radiation safety and soil compaction. In some cases, WINZ can provide support to cover the costs of training, while in others training costs can be covered by employers – sometimes with support from Government schemes such as the Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund.