RMBA president Kerry Archer: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

RMBA president Kerry Archer

With a nod to that classic 1966 Spaghetti Western movie starring Clint Eastwood, RMBA president Kerry Archer outlines the good, the bad and the ugly of the New Zealand construction industry.

The Good 

Building activity is at an all-time high, with 39,420 new dwellings consented in the year ended December 2020.

This level of activity has not been seen since the 1970s when, in 1974, there were 37,919 new dwellings built.

The number of new homes has been slowly increasing in the past 10 years after coming off lows in 2009 and 2011 when there were fewer than 14,000 new homes consented.

The total value of residential building consents for 2020 was just shy of $16.5 billion, while non-residential building consents totalled almost $7 billion.

The other interesting thing is that the mix of houses being constructed has changed. Stand-alone properties made up the highest percentage of housing but these have been overtaken by flats, multi-units and apartments.

This shows the way we are building is changing in relation to the use of the land. The kiwi quarter acre dream is seemingly over.

I am pretty sure that no one, including the Government, was predicting these levels of construction after the first lockdown — which is great not only for our industry but also for the country.

The Bad  

With construction levels at an all-time high, the industry was always going to struggle with sufficient numbers of skilled and competent people to meet the challenge — and it’s a pretty common theme across the country.

The bad part is that only 10% of employees train an apprentice. This figure could be slightly out of date as, since the government announced its Apprenticeship Boost Scheme, there has been a 17% increase in new apprenticeships.

But the 10% is not enough. As an industry, we need to get this figure up and not rely on such a small percentage to train new blood.

Instead of moaning about the lack of staff maybe we should do something about it.

On another note, the amount of waste the New Zealand construction industry creates is staggering. Construction and demolition waste accounts for 40% to 50% of the total waste going into landfills (see story, page 12).

An average new house build generates an average of four tonnes of waste.

To put it into perspective, you would have to put your standard household bin out weekly for more than 30 years to generate that type of volume.

This is something we can do a lot better at by thinking about the 3 Rs regime — Reduce, Reuse and Recycle:

Reduce the amount of material coming to site, ordering more accurately to reduce offcuts.

Reuse materials/products again if possible.

Recycle whatever you can — which is the majority of our waste. This is probably one of the easiest things to do on site.

Put together a waste management plan — many of which are available online — and see what you can do to reduce the amount of waste.

I know it’s easy just to keep filling up skip bins on site and then away they go — out of sight, out of mind — but think about where it ends up.

One report I read said that by 2025, construction waste will amount to 2.2 billion tonnes. That’s a whole lot of rubbish, but if everyone does something small imagine what could happen?

The Ugly

One statistic the industry should not be proud of is that construction has the highest rate of suicides of any industry in New Zealand.

We are losing more than 50 people a year to suicide — so one person a week from the construction sector is taking their own life.

We hold ourselves out that construction is a great industry to be a part of, and it is. But some things need to change.

The good old “here’s a concrete pill, now harden up” attitude is changing, albeit slowly.

I always tell my staff that unless you win lotto then you have to work — so you might as well try to get some satisfaction or enjoyment out of it because you’re going to spend an average of 45 hours a week doing it.

Doing this should not cause any kind of misery to others. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, and if they are coming to work and getting a hard time, are under pressure to get the job done, being bullied or working long hours on top of external pressures, then there is no enjoyment in that.

And it could lead to something much more serious.

If someone you work with is a bit off and might be getting angry, isolating themselves, drinking more than normal, arriving late or not showing up at all, and you know that is not normally them, they may need someone to reach out and just ask the question: “Are you ok?”

Those three words are all you might need to help someone avoid becoming one of these terrible statistics.

If someone does open up to you and you don’t feel as though you can handle it, there are lots of people who are only a phone call away.

If you feel you can’t talk to a workmate, call someone who can help.

The RMBA has an 0800 number for counselling — 0800 800 397 — or Mates in Construction have people on the phones trained to help. Call them on 0800 111 315.

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