Case Study: Auckland District Health Board - Targeting Critical Skills Gaps

This case study details Auckland District Health Board's innovative approach to addressing critical skills shortages in health specialised construction.


In the next 10 years the Government is planning to invest $10 billion in health infrastructure across the Northern Region to support the health needs of a growing and ageing population. However, there is a critical shortage of project managers with the specialised health knowledge and skills required to help deliver on this investment.

The four Northern Region District Health Boards have partnered with Northern Regional Alliance (NRA) and the University of Auckland to establish a new master’s qualification and training programme. With a mix of classroom learning and on-the job training, the programme will develop specialised project managers who will play a critical role in Aotearoa New Zealand’s future health infrastructure.

"Investment in health, transport and residential infrastructure is vital to deliver what New Zealand needs, but skills shortages are putting implementation of infrastructure investments at serious risk. This pilot of client investment in skills development and partnering with education providers is forward-thinking and vital to meeting New Zealand's critical infrastructure needs for the future." Graham Burke, President - Specialist Trade Contractors Federation

Health project managers case study video


Construction projects in the health sector require project managers who are trained to meet the unique needs of healthcare facilities. These include hygiene and sterilisation requirements, specialist design for healthcare equipment and progressing projects without hindering hospital operations or patient care. Project managers must be able to collaborate with stakeholders, ranging from specialist doctors to subcontractors, and balance the project and operational requirements to enable a more resilient health system. To support the Government's $10 billion investment, around 50 additional health specialised project managers are needed.

The Northern District Health Boards partnership with the University of Auckland involves two interconnected programmes: a Master's in Engineering Project Management - Health (MEPM-H) and a pilot programme, the Centre of Excellence for Health Infrastructure (CEHI). MEPM-H will supplement the existing engineering project management course at the University of Auckland and include papers specific to delivering infrastructure within a healthcare setting. The CEHI pilot will provide paid training opportunities for MEPM-H students so they can apply their academic learnings in a practical setting. The objective of these programmes is to provide future project managers with real-world experience while they complete their study.

Project overview

Project goal: To address the critical shortage of health specialised project managers by establishing a new tertiary qualification and training programme.,


  • In the next 10 years, the Government plans to invest $10 billion in critical health infrastructure for the Northern Region
  • New Zealand needs around 50 additional health specialised project managers in the next decade
  • The MEPM-H programme will eventually accept around 20 students per year and of these 9 will be selected for the CEHI training programme
  • In semester one of 2022, MEPM-H has accepted 10 students and the CEHI has accepted three trainees
  • Scholarships of up to $8,000 are provided by CEHI to support tuition costs, which are targeted towards Māori and Pasifika students
  • The training programme pilot will run for two to three years, with $1 million of funding secured.

Applies to: Clients in construction subsectors who need to address critical skills shortages.

Accord goals:

  • Being bold
  • Build trusting relationships
  • Increase productivity.

Accord outcomes:

  • Workforce — safe, secure, rewarding careers

Accord principles:

  • Being accountable
  • Focusing on delivering quality
  • Fostering innovation, and research and development
  • Fostering careers to nurture the industry's future
  • Planning for the long term
  • Acting as a custodian for the sector's future.

Project stage:

  • The Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP) approved the MEPH-H course and it started in semester one, 2022
  • The CEHI pilot programme started in early 2022.

Beacon monitoring process: The Accord Beacons team will monitor the progress of the programmes and support other critical subsectors in learning from and applying similar programmes to address critical skills shortages.


The Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) worked with Northern Regional Health Alliance on how to increase the numbers of health specialised Project Managers in Aotearoa. A range of options were considered, such as unpaid internships and generic master’s programmes. A specialised master's for health infrastructure and training programme were selected because they will produce a focussed, sustainable pipeline of talent for the health sector. This concept could also be rolled out nationally in other infrastructure subsectors to meet a variety of skills shortages.

ADHB approached several potential education partners and ultimately chose the University of Auckland to develop and provide the master's programme, as it built on the existing relationship between the two organisations. ADHB runs the training programme on behalf of the other Northern Region DHBs, and supports the development of employment contracts, rotations and integrates the trainees into project teams.

$1 million in funding was secured for the CEHI pilot programme for a two-year period. After two years, the pilot's success will be reviewed against various metrics, including equity targets and the potential to be used as a template for other infrastructure subsectors to follow. The MEPM-H programme is not linked with the same funding but requires ongoing interest from students to remain viable. At the end of the two-year funding period there will be more clarity around the structure of health services in New Zealand, which should enable ADHB and its partners to secure long-term funding and scale the concept nationwide.

Tertiary curriculum through MEPM-H

The University of Auckland agreed to create the MEPM-H programme to support the skills shortage – in line with its strategy to partner with employer organisations and offer 'blended' learning options. The curriculum was developed with input from health specialists and includes specific papers about health infrastructure, as well as engineering and construction management skills.

Applicants for the MEPM-H are assessed against the university's entry criteria, with preference given to undergraduates who have suitable experience from health, engineering, or construction courses. There's also an opportunity to attract existing healthcare professionals, who are considering a change in career, to retain their talent and experience within the health sector. The interview process for the course assesses the applicant’s emotional intelligence and skills such as empathy, communication, and collaboration, as these are fundamental skills for high performing project managers.

CEHI has established four $8,000 scholarships to support students with tuition fees. The scholarships focus on equity and attracting Māori and Pasifika into the health infrastructure sector, as these groups are currently underrepresented in highly skilled construction roles. Selected students can complement their MEPM-H education with hands-on work experience through the CEHI training programme.

Training programme through the CEHI

The two-year paid training programme will support students financially during their studies, as well as immerse them in health infrastructure projects. The first cohort for 2022 includes a registered nurse, engineer, pharmacist, and quantity surveyor. The trainees will add value from day one with their unique perspectives and experiences – the CEHI salary bands were also raised to accommodate for the higher-than-expected experience and capability of the trainees. In return, the trainees will apply their learnings from university in their on-the-job training.

The trainees will gain exposure to different projects across three to four rotations at each DHB in the Northern Region. A relationship manager from the CEHI will take care of recruitment, pastoral care, placements and building a capability development framework for the trainees. They will also train each DHB on integrating and managing the trainees, which will include providing meaningful work and broad experience. The trainees' work will complement their research and project-based studies in the MEPM-H programme, as well as achieving learning outcomes in line with the CEHI’s capability development framework.

Their support network will include around 30 project managers from across the DHBs, the CEHI relationship manager, their lecturers, the university's programme director of the MEPM-H and their fellow trainees. The on-the-job training will focus on growing their understanding of how the health sector operates and interfaces with infrastructure development, and stakeholder management. For example, they will be supported in developing relationships with clinical staff so they can learn how to ask the right questions to balance project and operational requirements in real life projects.

Outcomes and benefits

In the short term, ADHB expects to recruit around 9 student trainees per year for the CEHI training programme. It will target the skills gap by training health-specialised project managers and increasing the diversity of the talent pool by recruiting people who represent the communities it serves.

The programme will also provide an alternative career pathway for existing health care professionals like current trainee, Claire Koshy, who is using her background in nursing to pivot towards infrastructure project management in the health sector. Keeping people like Claire in the health sector as project managers introduce their real-world perspectives into infrastructure project planning and delivery.

"I found that nursing and project management seem almost parallel, in maybe different universes but, it's a job where you pick up the pieces and make sure everything's sorted and you see a need for change, and you fill in the gaps." Claire Koshy, Project management trainee.

The master's degree-training model provides a unique partnership between clients and tertiary education providers, which can be used to increase the work readiness of future graduates. Previously there have been concerns that tertiary learning alone does not always meet the needs of a fast-paced and complex work environment, however the collaboration and ‘blended learning’ between University of Auckland and the CEHI will help students develop relevant skills for the industry they’re entering.

Lessons learnt

Learnings from the operational phase of the pilot will be captured over the next 12 months and shared with the construction industry through Beacons updates.

A key learning so far is around getting the messaging right in the business case stage. It was difficult to create buy-in for the programme and secure funding, so ADHB focused on the risk to future health infrastructure and quantified the benefits. It was also a challenge to secure funding for a long-term project, which is why ADHB reduced the seven-year funding request to a two-year pilot. This approach helped mitigate risks around the higher, longer term spending commitment.

Since the two programmes launched in early 2022, there were early learnings around the lack of uptake from students. It highlighted the need to engage with students early and get the CEHI brand into the marketplace. Another lesson was around securing human resources (HR) personnel earlier to ensure the salary banding and job sizing is reflective of the capability of potential students. HR personnel need to issue employment contracts far in advance of training programme start dates so that the students can hand in their notice to employers and start the programme on time.

Last updated: 31 March 2022