Reflections on 2020 show a united sector

The final Towards High Performance webinar for 2020 saw four members of the Construction Sector Accord Steering Group (ASG) reflect on the past year, and discuss how the Construction Sector Accord is working with the sector to undertake change.

The transformation of the construction industry is a work in progress, with the sector continuously learning from the past.

Prior to April 2019, when the Accord was officially launched, the industry was fragmented and underperforming. A range of systemic problems – such as high-profile building collapses, unclear regulations and skills shortages ­– were having implications not just for the sector, but the wider New Zealand economy.

The Accord was established to 'change the rules of the game'. Jointly developed by Government Ministers, agencies and construction sector leaders, it was an unprecedented and bold step towards strengthening the partnership between government and industry.

Priority areas include improving culture and leadership, growing workforce capability and capacity, improving health and safety, and establishing better procurement and consenting processes.

Essentially the Accord is a joint commitment from government and industry to work together to transform the construction sector and bring about much-needed change.

The resilience and cooperation of the construction sector is encouraging

Minister for Building and Construction Poto Williams joined the webinar to state that despite the past year being incredibly challenging, the construction sector showed resilience.

"The sector came out of lockdown level four in a confident state and will continue to be a driver for New Zealand’s economic recovery in the months and years to come. We need to share the lessons we learnt so we can build back better and ensure our construction sector remains strong and resilient for all New Zealanders," she says.

Meanwhile, Naylor Love Chief Executive and ASG member Rick Herd says the Accord played a massive part ensuring the industry was well-represented during the lockdown.

"The sector was in need of support from the Government and had protocols to implement across the nation. The way it was handled is an example of what cooperation can do," Rick says.

"We need to understand what could have gone wrong during the lockdown if we hadn’t had those collective voices in the room. I think things could have gone wrong in respect of price-cutting. The fact there was leadership within the industry saying that price-cutting wasn’t accepted, and that we expect contractors to maintain margins was an important message across the industry."

Positive change in behaviours is crucial

Rick says it is time the industry stood up and made changes in behaviours, which includes everything from learning how to provide better customer service, to lowering costs, and making the industry more attractive and sustainable for anyone who wants to join. 

"For example, we need to understand what a good contractor organisation looks like, and I don’t believe from the behaviour I’ve seen, that many know what a good one looks like," he says.

"You need to look at health and safety performance, an organisation's staff turnover rates, and how they are training their people. All of this information makes up strong organisations that are sustainable for the long term."

In Rick's 47 years in the construction industry, it is the first time he can see change within the industry, thanks to the work of the Accord.

"The biggest lesson so far is that with the power of the whole industry we can develop change. It will take a while to change the overall culture – but we have started that journey."

Working together to achieve results

Property Council of New Zealand Chief Executive and ASG member Leonie Freeman reflected on the pandemic and found two broad issues to learn from.

She spoke positively about the Accord presenting a united front for the industry and providing direct access to government officials and ministers during the early months of the pandemic.

"If we hadn't had the Accord, then we would've run the risk of each different group within the industry all trying to talk to government. Getting the construction sector back up and running at level three was really positive," she says.

Keeping our workers safe

The pandemic has taken a toll on people’s lives professionally and personally, but the construction sector has always seen high rates of mental health issues even before the pandemic hit.

Chair of the Construction Health and Safety NZ Group (CHASNZ) and ASG member Roger McRae says the industry has a lot of factors that can contribute to mental health issues.

"There is market volatility, projects can get stopped at short notice - it's always been known as a boom and bust industry," he says.

"There are long working hours, many that are at short notice to make up for time lost due to weather, and people can face financial penalties for not making commitments."

CHASNZ has partnered with MATES in Construction – which focuses on mental health and suicide prevention in the industry - to reduce this dreadful statistic.

Roger says the Accord has provided a valuable platform for communicating the mental health initiatives that MATES is leading across the industry.

"It's great that MATES was in place, because the demand for its services ramped up dramatically during the shutdown period and has not let down since," he says.

"Right now MATES is looking to employ more case managers as funding allows.

"Keeping people who work in the construction industry safe and healthy is one of the bigger challenges facing the industry. CHASNZ is committed to working with the Accord and government to raise awareness of wellbeing and to see everyone go home every day."

Construction industry has a lot of change ahead

Construction Sector Accord Transformation Director Dean Kimpton says, "This Government has signalled their strong support for the Construction Sector Accord, and the work needed to maintain construction momentum and respond to the impacts of Covid-19."

"As government and agencies continue driving an ambitious construction and infrastructure programme, the Accord's role in supporting a collaborative high-performing sector will be crucial."

Webinar Video

This webinar was recorded on 9 December 2020. It includes speakers from the Accord Steering Group including Rick Herd, Graham Burke, Leonie Freeman, and Roger McRae.

Watch the full webinar(external link) -

2020 Construction Sector Progress Report

Read the 2020 Construction Sector Progress Report

Last updated: 15 December 2020 Last reviewed: 15 December 2020