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15 Mar 2021

Women, Māori, and Pasifika focussed initiatives are driving the construction industry forward, especially in a post Covid-19 Economy.

Women in Construction

Women have been working in construction for a long time, but their statistical position in the industry is skyrocketing right now.

Even though New Zealand has only about 2.6% of trade roles filled by women, their presence is noticeable to visitors. For example, Australian studies show that only 1% of site-based construction, engineering, and automotive roles are filled by women. There is a statistical misrepresentation when numbers closer to 15% or 20% are stated in reference to female workers in trades, because the vast majority of those roles are professional – HR and management based – or have a broad technical definition and take into account hairdressing and skilled animal trades – trades which have been traditionally women focussed. 

Skills shortage

The New Zealand government lists construction as a long-term shortage, and is one of the skills on the Essential Skills in Demand’ (ESID) ( list which details the areas which the government accepts there are fewer New Zealanders qualified in this area than are needed.

This means that for a significant period, New Zealanders have not been choosing construction as a career. This will only get worse unless action is taken.

Auckland Initiatives

A program started by the Auckland Council supporting Māori and Pasifika businesses has had a huge win with a 90% increase in contracts that it has helped local businesses secure. The He Waka Eke Noa program helps local businesses participate in the process to secure contracts. These contracts include placing staff into employment in infrastructure and construction.

In addition to a contract value increase, since the Covid-19 lockdown the program has more than doubled the businesses that it supports. Before the lockdowns, He Waka Eke Noa helped Māori and Pasifika businesses win approximately $22 million in contract value over the around 120 businesses on their books. Since the lockdowns, $20 million more in contract value has been secured and they now support over 300 businesses.

A notable success in the initiative’s efforts has been the nearly 500 jobs which were created over eight of the businesses taking part in He Waka Eke Noa by securing contracts with the Link Alliance to place workers on Auckland’s City Rail Link projects. 

He Waka Eke Noa has been helping Māori and Pasifika businesses get a seat at the negotiating table and has seen massive success in doing so. The initiative and registered businesses have been involved in over 60 different contracts with more than 30 businesses and is involved with a tendering pipeline of over $900 million.

By ensuring that Māori and Pasifika businesses are represented in the early stages of contracting we are seeing the huge value they bring to the projects and the country’s economy as a whole.

In addition to He Waka Eke Noa, other initiatives to help Māori and Pasifika businesses and individuals have a fair shot at contracts and positions have created hundreds of jobs and allowed them to thrive at a time where otherwise they would have been disproportionally worse off. 

Women in Construction

With a skills shortage in full swing, the fact that only 3% of trade roles are filled by women shows an obvious gap that could be filled by Kiwi women. A VET (Vocational Education Training) program spearheaded by the New Zealand government has seen a massive increase in trade apprenticeships.

Launching a $320 million Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF) which funds all apprenticeships, as well as certificates, diplomas and programmes in targeted industries – making them free for New Zealanders of all ages from July 1, 2020, the New Zealand government has successfully encouraged over 14,000 new apprentices to pick up a trade – up from around 7500 in the same period of 2019.

Of those 14,000, 1,785 of them have been women. This is an increase from 854 female trade apprentices in the same period of 2019.

In fact, an all-female work crew has been working on sites for some time now.

Emma Brown, director of Yellowhammer Services, started in the construction industry in the 1980’s. In 2015 she took a break from site work and used her time to research the toxic masculinity in construction and saw how severely it was affecting the industry as a whole. When the industry as a whole is seen as a non-option for women, they are less likely to pick up an apprenticeship to even try their hand at it. So, she formed an all-female crew. She had never seen one in her entire career, so she decided to make the first one.

The National Association for Women in Construction ( are a voluntary, non-profit association of women working either in construction or for businesses and organisations which service the construction industry. NAWIC was founded in 1952 in Texas, which shows that the gender imbalance in construction has been a problem for a long time. They are partnered with BCITO who are leading a significant program to increase the number of women in construction apprenticeships ( 

With the construction industry becoming more open and diverse, New Zealand can look forward to lower unemployment rates, ending the skills shortage, and enjoying all the benefits that come from a growing economy and booming infrastructure.

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