NZ: Removal of multiple civil construction roles from immigration lists criticized

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Civil Contractors New Zealand has heavily criticized the removal of multiple civil construction roles from NZ’s immigration lists.

Recently announced immigration changes are short-sighted, risk undermining the New Zealand’s ability to deliver on its infrastructure work programme and will inevitably increase the cost of delivering transport and water infrastructure.

Announced on 7 April, the changes remove 11 roles from the Green List, and seven roles from the Construction and infrastructure Sector Agreement.

Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Alan Pollard said the changes showed little understanding of industry’s needs, given a projected future work programme including new Roads of National Significance, water network upgrades and cyclone recovery work. 

A lack of infrastructure was often cited as a major reason why immigration was not possible, so reduced ability for infrastructure construction companies to offer migrant workers meaningful careers was likely to hamstring the country for years to come, Mr Pollard said.

“Given the amount of work there is going to be to construct, restore and maintain the country’s civil infrastructure networks, these changes are poorly timed and short sighted.

“We have recently offered to support Immigration NZ and the Minister in making sure changes are fit for purpose, and that offer remains open if they are interested in making positive change through restoring roles to the Green List and Sector Agreement.”

Mr Pollard said it took industry around five years to train a domestic new entrant to be a multi-skilled civil tradesperson. Infrastructure construction trade skills were in hot demand globally, and NZ needed to attract top international infrastructure construction talent. 

“We are in a lull right now as we wait for the government’s transport and water construction plans to start hitting the market. But when these projects come, we will need the ability to scale up quickly. These changes will reduce the industry’s ability to do so.

“We need better targeting around roles, and without the Green List and Sector Agreement, we’ll be relying on the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which is fundamentally flawed – it is slow, expensive and the criteria aren’t fit for purpose.”

While infrastructure construction offered great rates of pay and amazing career opportunities, there were currently few government-supported programmes for domestic intakes of infrastructure workers, so the cost was borne by industry and clients.

This was compounded by longstanding systemic issues in the education system, which did not deliver civil trades skills in schools, fund fit-for-purpose training programmes, or provide funding support for workplace training delivery by the civil construction industry, outside of providing qualifications through apprenticeship support, meaning companies were effectively schooling new workers from scratch.

Mr Pollard said the industry was doing its part through training, career promotion, qualification development and apprenticeships for workers. Unless Government partnered with industry to onboard workers through immigration or domestic civil trades training intake programmes, industry would be left to develop skilled workers from square one, once again.

“For many years now, skilled civil construction workers endeavouring to construct and maintain our infrastructure networks have gone unrecognised, despite delivering some of the most important things for our society – transport, water and public infrastructure. 

“We need to recognise the value these people add to our country.”

Quick stats: the civil construction industry’s perspective on immigration

  •  Skills shortage and availability of workers has been the single biggest challenge to growth in the civil construction industry for years, topping the list of the civil construction industry’s biggest problems each year in the industry’s annual Construction Industry Survey since it began in 2017.
  • New Green List pathways for civil trades workers were seen by industry in the 2023 Construction Industry Survey as the second most positive impact, only behind a clear pipeline of central and local government work.
  • Projections for the infrastructure deficit and upcoming work programme are massive, ranging between $100b and $120b
  • The infrastructure workforce consists of an estimated 108,000 workers, evenly split between horizontal (civil) and vertical)

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