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Civil Contractors: Infrastructure Investment Will Benefit Everyday Kiwis

New Zealand’s national association for civil contractors has welcomed increased investment in infrastructure announced in today’s budget, and the opportunity for the civil construction industry to create jobs and take a lead role in New Zealand’s economic recovery.

Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Peter Silcock said the announcements were a win for everyday Kiwis as well as contractors because they would enable the country to upgrade and improve community infrastructure such as roads and water networks.

Mr Silcock said the increased investment was a great opportunity, not just to build new roading and water networks, but also to catch up on the country’s deferred maintenance and upgrade existing infrastructure to be fit for purpose in the present day.

“Upgrading New Zealand’s infrastructure will serve the country well in the long term. It will also enable the civil construction industry to provide meaningful employment for those who may have lost their jobs, as well as retaining the skills in our current workforce.”

He said helping people upskill would require close attention to enable people to transition smoothly. While skills such as abseiling or heavy vehicle driving would be transferable, considerable re-training would be needed for some, and industry welcomed opportunities to work closely with Government and the broader training and education sector, especially around developing new pathways to civil apprenticeships.

He said to be truly effective, this investment would also need to reach the regions and the many small to medium employers in the industry, who worked on vital regional works as well as being employed as subcontractors on big-ticket projects.

“While it’s important to give the economy a boost, this needs to be sustainable. The last thing we want to do is create a boom/bust situation. To create sustainable employment and better community outcomes, investment needs to be well-planned and phased over time.”

Mr Silcock said the NZ Infrastructure Commission was established to help take a planned approach and manage the infrastructure work pipeline, and dialog between government and industry had been vastly improved since the creation of the Construction Sector Accord.

It was also important to consider project outcomes in planning. This meant improved maintenance and environmental outcomes, such as upgrading regional water infrastructure to address water quality issues – issues contractors were well equipped to deliver on through new technology and specialist knowledge on techniques such as erosion control.

“Infrastructure investment is not just about building roads. It’s about building better public infrastructure for liveable communities. It’s about improving water and wastewater networks to make sure rivers and lakes aren’t polluted, and about making our roads safer.”

One issue that could be problematic following COVID-19 was the availability of specialist civil construction experts like geotechnical engineers or project managers. In the past a high proportion of these people were recruited from offshore on a permanent, semi- permanent or fly in fly out basis, he said.

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