The role of diversity in the construction sector

The Construction Sector Accord recently partnered with Diversity Works NZ, the national body for workplace diversity and inclusion, to talk about diversity as part of the Accord's Towards High Performance webinar series.

Construction is not always perceived as an attractive career choice, which means the industry is missing out on potential workers bringing diverse backgrounds, perspectives and insights.

Women make up only 18 per cent of the construction-related workforce and Māori and Pasifika are under-represented in skilled professions and leadership roles.

Through its Transformation Plan, the Construction Sector Accord is committed to working with government and industry to build on existing diversity campaigns that promote construction as a good career option. In order to address systemic, long-term skills shortages - that are being exacerbated by COVID-19 – the industry must think about participation and inclusion of all people, in new ways.

At the webinar, four construction sector organisations shared their work that was recognised as excellent at the recent 2020 Diversity Awards NZ™.

Mission critical for the construction sector to be inclusive

Speaking on the webinar, CEO of Diversity Works NZ Maretha Smit says that reaching diversity and inclusion was already on the cards when the Construction Sector Accord was set up in 2019, but COVID-19 has turned up the urgency on these issues for the sector.

"Our Covid-19 recovery is largely focused on ensuring the sector can be productive and future proof, but a high proportion of people in this sector are at retirement age," she says.

"Our solution was driven by importing skills, but migration has come to a standstill. Our closed borders mean we need to rely on our talent and labour pool in New Zealand."

Several organisations across the country are taking the lead by introducing policies that are bringing diversity and inclusivity to the construction workforce.

Aurecon's new parental leave policy disrupting gender stereotypes

Shared Care, launched in 2017, provides employees with genuine choice about how they balance work and home responsibilities by encouraging ‘secondary carers’ to play a more active part in caring for children. The policy offers 14 weeks of paid parental leave, taken as a block or interspersed with work days, with KiwiSaver contributions continued for 14 weeks of any unpaid parental leave.

The policy has a direct focus on equality and treating everybody fairly, including welcoming women back into the workplace after having a baby.

Aurecon Government and Defence Leader Josie Fitzgerald says the Shared Care policy is a step in the right direction to address the under representation of women in the engineering industry.

"In three years we have seen a drop in female attrition from 12 per cent to nine per cent, and 52 per cent of men taking up this policy.

"It is about making it easier for our people to look after their kids while staying in the workforce, and it is a pathway for our female staff to move through the organisation."

HEB Construction addresses literacy and numeracy issues

Addressing literacy and numeracy issues among HEB Construction's 1000-strong workforce has seen unexpected benefits including a 62 per cent increase in those undertaking new qualifications or apprenticeships.

The company believed that literacy problems could be a barrier to both productivity and workplace health and safety. Signs of a potential problem included a lack of questioning by employees at pre-start and toolbox meetings, a lack of understanding on how to complete paperwork, important questions not being asked at safety meetings and safety processes not being followed.

HEB Construction Learning and Development Manager Lesley Southwick says that people were declining training opportunities, and literacy and numeracy issues were a problem for the sector as a whole.

HEB created a course tailored on communications, with a focus on how employees can better improve themselves.

"We knew many people left school with no qualifications and many had a bad experience with learning or school, so we focused on producing a course that was fun and wanted to de-stigmatise it," she says.

"We wanted the course to focus on health and safety, to help people understand pre-starts and how to complete their paperwork. We focused on the words we use, and helped them gain confidence to speak up at pre-starts and toolboxes," Lesley says.

Around 50 people have completed the course in the past 18 months, with survey results showing that staff completing the courses feel more confident about reading and writing forms, and reading hazard boards. A massive 78 per cent of participants now feel more confident about speaking up at work.

Fletcher Construction showing young women opportunities in the sector

With only 18 per cent of Fletcher Construction's workforce being female, the company was determined to show young women the opportunities the sector can offer.

Fletcher Construction joined forces with GirlBoss NZ, an organisation focused on closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, maths, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Fletcher Construction Recruitment, Learning and Development Greer Williams says, "It's broadly understood in our sector that we struggle to attract females, so if there’s anything we can do to attract them, it's starting with education."

The GirlBoss Advantage programme gives 28 young women the chance to spend a week hearing about and participating in STEM - a curriculum based on educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The women undertaking the programme visited Fletcher Building sites, learnt about personal branding and networking, and took park in a Dragon's Den-style challenge, designed by the Fletcher Building Innovation team.

Greer says Fletcher Construction is also making the conversation around apprenticeships more diverse, and finding ways to make roles more appealing to females wanting to come into the industry.

"We also have very strong leadership in our business, both males and females, who are advocating for diversity."

Citycare recognised during COVID-19 lockdown

Citycare's work was recognised during the Covid-19 lockdown. Suddenly communities appreciated and valued the unsung work Citycare teams delivered. New Zealand needs this committed workforce to stay open and it needs a diverse talent pipeline to ensure delivery.

Citycare recognised it needed to expand its talent pool and pipeline by employing local people in the communities where it operates, with a focus on attracting young people, Māori, Pasifika and women to join its workforce.

Citycare Property Human Resource Manager Rachel Moore says it used an 'engage, educate and attract' strategy. This included engaging with the community, educating 30,000 school students across the country and volunteer days to attract talent.

Rachel says while Citycare's work isn't "sexy work", it’s essential that it gets done to keep communities running.

"We are attracting people who not only work (in these towns), but who live there and take pride in their work. It seems so simple, but it is so important. Localism is at the heart of our talent strategy," she says.

Citycare is also attracting young people to the team with its '2 in a Ute' programme, which pairs an older employee with a young person.

"This programme allows us to match the energy versus the enthusiasm of knowledge," she says.

"The older person can transfer what they know about the job, and now we have young people doing apprenticeships. It gives a young unemployed person the chance to have a career and a pathway to education."

Success stories the start of a bigger conversation

Director of the Construction Sector Accord Judy Zhang says, "We need to work together to shift entrenched attitudes and behaviours that we still come across in our sector. We need to all embrace diversity, equity and inclusion."

The Construction Sector Accord plans to create new ways of encouraging diversity in construction via educating industry, educating young people, educating for understanding and thought leadership.

Webinar Video

This webinar was recorded on 24 November 2020. It includes speakers from Diversity Works NZ, Aurecon, HEB Construction, Fletcher Construction and Citycare.

Watch the full webinar(external link) -

The final webinar for the year will be held on Wednesday, 9 December from 3-4pm and will discuss lessons learnt and reflections from 2020. Industry leaders from the Construction Sector Accord will talk about issues in the sector, the impact of COVID-19, the future of the construction sector, and share lessons learnt.

Last updated: 01 December 2020