Case Study: City Rail Link - Progressive Employment Programme

The Accord City Rail Link case study focuses on embracing diversity and inclusion and supporting better employment outcomes for Māori and Pasifika in the construction sector.


City Rail Link (CRL) is New Zealand's largest ever transport infrastructure project, with an investment of $4.4billion to build a 3.45km underground rail link below Auckland's city centre – expected to be completed in 2024.

As part of its broader social outcomes strategy, City Rail Link Limited (CRL Ltd) decided to build more than just the rail link by developing its Progressive Employment Programme in 2019. The programme shares many of the goals set out in the Accord – including making people feel valued, which sits at the heart of the programme. It focusses on creating career and employment opportunities, embracing diversity and inclusion and supporting better outcomes for Māori and Pasifika.

CRL Ltd's approach recognises and rewards effort and successes in the workplace, and reinforces health, safety and mental wellbeing as key priorities for young people.

Learn more about CRL Ltd's wider social outcomes strategy(external link) -

Read the guide on how to implement a similar approach in your business.

Beacon Project overview

Programme goal: To help bypass barriers preventing rangatahi (young people) from getting to the employment starting line.


  • The largest transport infrastructure project ever undertaken in New Zealand
  • A 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link up to 42 metres below Auckland's city centre
  • New stations at Aotea and Karangahape, and redeveloped stations at Mount Eden and Britomart
  • Transformation of Britomart Transport Centre into a two-way station for a significantly improved Auckland rail network
  • Will allow the rail network to at least double rail capacity
  • Project is being procured through an Alliance model with external providers
  • Project value of $4.4 billion, to be completed in 2024.

Applies to: Learnings can be applied to a broad range of projects and programmes.

Accord goals: A skilled and capable workforce that meets New Zealand's growing housing and infrastructure needs.

Accord outcomes:

  • Career pathways and opportunities to upskill
  • Greater diversity
  • An environment that supports thriving mental health and wellbeing.

Accord principles:

  • Fostering careers to nurture the industry's future
  • Recognising and rewarding effort and success
  • Embracing diversity and inclusion
  • Supporting better outcomes for Māori
  • Prioritising health, safety and mental wellbeing.

Programme stage: The pilot is completed and is now being rolled out across the project.

Beacon monitoring process: The Accord Beacons team will monitor CRL Ltd's progress, with a particular focus on the progress of those participating in the programme.

City Rail Link case study video

Progressive Employment Programme

CRL Ltd's vision is to create positive social outcomes for its community and promote diversity in the sector – including supporting Māori and Pasifika businesses, and using targeted training and job opportunities to remove employment barriers for mana whenua, other Māori, Pasifika and young people. Companies and contractors working with CRL Ltd also need to demonstrate how they are helping to achieve these social outcomes.

CRL Ltd is committed to leaving a positive and lasting social legacy and its Progressive Employment Programme is a key part of this. The goal of the programme: to help bypass barriers preventing rangatahi (young people) from getting to the employment starting line.

The programme is designed to create work-ready rangatahi and provide lasting, positive and sustained employment – underpinned by increasing their confidence and providing career and personal development opportunities.

"I do believe big companies have an equally big responsibility to make a difference, even a small one, where they can help those who find their way to a job blocked." - Dr Sean Sweeney, Chief Executive, City Rail Link Limited.


The pilot programme put six rangatahi – two women and four men, aged between 16 and 21 – through an on-the-job training and support programme, supporting each to become work-ready. The pilot was implemented at CRL Ltd's two early contract sites, C1 (Britomart Station/Lower Queen Street) and C2 (tunnel construction at the lower end of Albert Street) – with the full support of contractors DSB-JV (Downer / Soletanche-Bachy) and Connectus (Downer /McConnell Dowell).

CRL Ltd partnered with Lifewise, Te Ara Rangatahi and the Rising Foundation – these organisations nominated the young people who participated and actively supported the programme by providing pastoral care. As well as day-to-day supervision, each rangatahi chose a mentor from CRL Ltd to sponsor them throughout the scheme. Training focused on work-ready skills, including developing confidence in financial literacy and speaking in public, as well job-specific skills.

This multi-faceted approach ensured the rangatahi received the maximum benefit of the programme, were cared for throughout, had a positive experience working on the CRL project, and gained the experience and skills needed to get a head start in their careers.

At the start they spent 10 hours a week on the job, later increasing to 20 and then 30 hours. Each participant did meaningful work and were paid the living wage during the 19-week pilot programme. During that time, they were exposed to a wide range of jobs in the construction industry, including carpentry, health and safety, IT, administration, sustainability, and traffic control – all under close supervision by more experienced work 'buddies'.

They also received formal training specific to the roles they chose to focus on. Some chose practical skills training, such as working at height or working in confined spaces, while others chose sustainability or safety training.

The programme is about more than learning a work skill. It's also about learning to be work fit – balancing work and home life, money management, time management, and respect in the workplace.

Following the initiative, three of the six rangatahi were offered full-time employment on the CRL project and two others were offered apprenticeships with companies that are part of the Alliance supply chain.

Outcomes and benefits

After the pilot, the programme was evaluated independently by Awa Associates – specialising in social and cultural policy, research and evaluation, communications, infrastructure service support, and workforce development.

Awa Associates' evaluation assessed how well the programme was implemented, whether it reached the intended audience, and if the programme itself helped rangatahi get full-time employment in the construction and infrastructure industry.

The evaluation rated the pilot as "highly effective" describing the programme as consistent with CRL Ltd's social outcomes strategy, which responds to a number of construction industry challenges including, current labour and skills shortages, a need for more trades and engineering graduates, a lack of supply chain diversity and an aging workforce.

The benefits of the programme are much broader than the CRL project – it is about investing in young people's futures and connecting them with career opportunities.

Key benefits of the programme identified in the evaluation include:

  • Building confidence and competence
  • Providing relevant work-ready skills
  • Significantly improving the chances of gaining quality employment in the construction, infrastructure and rail industries.

Awa Associates' assessment found that rangatahi enjoyed their time on the programme and felt informed by their engagement with CRL staff and sub-contractors. They described their time with mentors as: "easy, open and supportive...having someone up there who believed in you."

The assessment described training as useful, relevant and positive, with rangatahi increasing their skill levels and developing new goals. Those goals included getting a car, providing support for their whānau and supporting others into construction and infrastructure employment – crucially important for the wider industry. Rangatahi were optimistic and positive about employment and their future, and would recommend the programme to their whānau and friends.

Below is some of the feedback received from rangatahi about the pilot programme:

"Where I am now is amazing. The internship with CRL was one of the best experiences in my life and now I’m a full-time employee on the project working in a job I like doing."

"Learnt heaps. IT was added on to my other three choices...and I didn't even know a job like that existed. I'm really grateful to be shown this role and I got this chance to prove myself now."

"Having money is the best part, options and being able to get your own stuff. Makes me feel proud."

"I loved that they helped me, made it simple to understand. I felt like they all wanted me to succeed. That was my journey and I would totally say something like this would help heaps of people like me."

"I just think it gave us another way to open the door you know, and now my life is different – that's a huge one for me."

The assessment of the pilot also reported that rangatahi weren't the only ones enthusiastic about the programme:

"I met weekly with my intern over the programme and I was able to provide advice and guidance about the options available to him to experience different roles on the construction sites. Some of the most rewarding moments of last year for me involved observing him grow in stature in his role as Assistant Health & Safety Advisor for the Link Alliance, standing up and delivering a toolbox talk to a large group of workers with clarity and confidence and becoming a valued and trusted member of the team." - Rob Mair, CRL Progressive Employment Programme mentor.

Development of the Programme

CRL Ltd has now passed the programme baton to the Link Alliance – a group of six New Zealand and international infrastructure-based companies, including CRL Ltd, that are delivering the project's substantive stations and tunnels contract.

The mentoring system has been revised and the Link Alliance has appointed a dedicated person to oversee the programme. It is also now a 16-week programme instead of the initial 19 weeks, taking into account feedback and lessons learnt from the pilot programme.

The Link Alliance is working with a number of organisations to provide pastoral care for the rangatahi. Partners include Te Whānau o Waipareira, Te Ara Rangatahi, Whai Maia Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Ma te Huruhuru, Ama Training and Lifewise.

Six rangatahi start their programme at the Link Alliance main office for initial training, including induction, onboarding, safety protocols and relationship building. Then they are assigned to one of the Link Alliance's three construction sites, where they experience different jobs before a final transition period ensures everything is in place to start permanent employment.

The first round of interns have completed their programme and Link Alliance is starting their second intake. The programme will continue to operate each year until the end of the main CRL construction project in 2024.

Learn more about CRL Ltd's wider social outcomes strategy(external link) -

Read the guide on how to implement a similar approach in your business.

Last updated: 25 March 2021