1000 more workers wanted by Christmas

MARTA STEEMAN AND OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2012
Paula Bennett
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ

LESS BORING: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett (with her back to the camera), speaks to former beneficiary Jesse Neville, 19, who is now working for Hawkins Construction and helping in the Christchurch rebuild.

Patrick Kohu
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
FRESH START: Patrick Kohu, who decided to make a change in life at 51.

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A push to hire 1000 more workers by Christmas for the $2.2 billion repair of Christchurch infrastructure kicks off next month.

The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (Scirt), wants to ramp up "field" workers from about 800 now to 1800 by year's end.

Scirt needs skilled workers for the repair of waterpipes, sewers, stormwater drains and roads. It wants to train newcomers from the unemployed and those keen to be part of the massive effort.

Scirt is an alliance of five of New Zealand's large construction companies contracted to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), the Christchurch City Council and New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA), who are funding the five-year project estimated to cost $2.2b. The five companies are Fletcher Construction, Fulton Hogan, McConnell Dowell, Downer and city-owned City Care.

"This is an exciting industry and it's a good opportunity for people to get work," Scirt general manager Duncan Gibb said.

It will launch a recruitment campaign and training programmes next month.

"We believe there are people still around Christchurch and Canterbury that we can bring into the construction industry through a training programme," he said.

Scirt had recently moved from the emergency repairs phase to long-term projects. It will be hiring crews of skilled workers first from Canterbury, then the South Island, then the North Island.

"We actually want 1000 by Christmas and we would like to get as many as we can out of local unskilled, but we believe it will take us 12 months to get 1000 people into the industry through training and upskilling programmes. We don't see any need to go overseas. We believe the skills are here in New Zealand."

Scirt was working with the construction industry's training organisation and other training bodies. It is also kitting a recruitment bus to visit schools and shows around the South Island.

Scirt wanted to employ locals first.

One of the reasons was fewer problems with accommodation.

"Also we would like to steer as much as possible of economic benefit from the programme back into the local area," Gibb said.

The skills gained by the workers would suit the coming "vertical rebuild" as well, where there would be 10 to 15 years of work.

Scirt was doing 80 projects now and hoped to have 150 projects on the go in the city by early next year. Sewers, water and stormwater had to be done before roads.

Local businesses were looking at accommodation for outside workers: "A lot of those [projects] are still in the pipeline."

Scirt was working with several government departments and Ngai Tahu to tap into the unemployed, Pacific people and Maori.

Asked about pressure on wage rates, Gibb said: "We are doing our very best to try and contain all those inflationary pressures because we've got to get the maximum value out of every dollar we spend."

It was important that labour rates were reasonable and sustainable.

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FROM UNEMPLOYED TO REBUILDING OUR CITY

Two Christchurch construction companies are hiring beneficiaries for the city's rebuild.

Fletcher Building and Hawkins Construction have embedded Work and Income staff members to help recruit unemployed youths for jobs in the rebuild.

The companies have helped 86 unemployed Cantabrians into work.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett visited a Hawkins Construction site yesterday and met four workers who had been employed through the Work and Income scheme and a Maori trade-training scheme.

One of the workers, apprentice Jesse Neville, 19, said he had been trying to secure a job for four years. He had been on a benefit for 12 months before Work and Income gave him the chance to get an apprenticeship.

Although life was "easier being on the dole, it's less boring working", he said.

When he was on a benefit he would usually wake up at noon and play Xbox for the afternoon, but now he was "way more motivated".

Neville had applied for about 30 jobs to no avail and believed if the apprenticeship opportunity had not been offered to him, he would still be on a benefit.

He has been employed since October and said most of his wages had gone towards paying off bills, but he was planning to start saving and go travelling in a few years.

"I never wanted a desk job; I wanted to be doing something. No offence, but I do prefer to actually work," he joked with Bennett.

Another worker, Patrick Kohu, 51, said he had been employed at Hawkins Construction through He Toki ki te Rika, a collaborative Maori trade-training scheme with Ngai Tahu, the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Hawkins.

Kohu decided he needed to "make a change" in his life after he was freed from prison, and he had chosen to get involved with the programme.

"It offers a sense of belonging and purpose, I suppose. It's about rebuilding my past."

Bennett said the new scheme was "really exciting" and she was "full of admiration" for the construction companies.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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