Speech at the launch of the Ministry for Women’s Getting it done: Utilising women’s skills in the workforce report

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 08:38

Kia ora and welcome everyone.

I am delighted to be here today to launch the report Getting it done: Utilising women’s skills in the workforce.

This report focuses on our work with Canterbury stakeholders to increase women’s participation in trades training and jobs, and how these lessons can be applied to opportunities in the labour market elsewhere. 

I’d like to start by thanking Leeann Watson for the warm welcome on this slightly chilly day.

It’s great to see my colleagues Hon Nicky Wagner and Jo Hayes here today.

I’d also like to welcome Onno Mulder, Chief Executive of CityCare and Kay Giles, Chief Executive of CPIT, along with local electrician Joy Lalahi who are our panellists today.

Most of you would have heard of iconic woman Rosie the Riveter, or will have seen posters of her.

Rosie was created during World War II to encourage American women to take up work traditionally reserved for men.

Rosie became the poster girl and cultural icon for women working in factories during the war and was eventually seen as a symbol of women’s economic power.

Despite her can-do attitude, bright polka dot head scarf and obvious strength, I feel Rosie’s legacy has faded.

Today, women are significantly under-represented across construction and trades, making up just 14 percent of New Zealand’s construction industry workforce, compared to 47 percent of the workforce as a whole.

We’re doing slightly better than Australia and the US, where women make up around 12 and nine percent respectively of their construction workforces.

But that’s no reason to be complacent.

We still have a long way to go to increase women’s work choices and their participation in the construction trades.

However, I’m pleased, and no doubt you all will be, that we are definitely getting it right here in Christchurch.

Following the earthquakes, demand for skilled construction labour to rebuild your city was high.

But as many of you will know, employers struggled to fill roles.

On the other hand, after the quakes, women had lost jobs in the service sector and were underutilised.

It made perfect sense to put the two parties together to create a solution.

But despite the high and increasing demand for labour in the rebuild, women’s employment in the construction industry remained flat.         

The team at the Ministry for Women saw this flat line and in 2013 commissioned research to try to better understand why women weren’t applying for construction jobs.  

Their research found that women were available and wanted to work, and were open to working in construction, but the general perception was that these jobs were for the boys.

Some women also believed they might not meet the physical demands of the job.

But, as good old Rosie the Riveter has always preached, we can do it.

The Ministry met with stakeholders to outline the benefits for employers, other employees and women when an effort is made to employ more female staff.

Research showed many companies experienced a distinct advantage from having a tradeswomen, both from the specific skills the women brought to their roles as well as their approach to customer service.

Benefits of employing more women include improvements to health and safety, stronger customer service skills, and greater attention to detail.

An action plan to encourage more women into the trades in Canterbury was developed which included initiatives to communicate opportunities, collaborate with influential people and organisations, increase the visibility of women already working in construction and encourage more women into trades training.

I’m pleased to say that since 2013 the number of women employed in Canterbury’s construction industry has more than doubled – from 3600 to 8600.

There are now also more women employed in Canterbury than in March 2014, an increase of 5.4 percent.

And demand continues to grow.

The NZ Institute of Economic Research quarterly survey of business opinion March 2015 showed that 58 percent of Canterbury businesses found it difficult to get skilled labour.

The good news is that the introduction of fees-free courses has had a major impact on the number of women taking trades courses.

CPIT numbers show 261 women were enrolled in trade courses in 2015. This is up from only 50 in 2011.

They are participating in 24 programmes, including carpentry, painting and decorating, engineering and welding.  

CPIT has made great strides in not only helping to plug the skills gaps in the region, it has also provided the pathway to meaningful work for many women and played a significant part in rebuilding the city.

It’s encouraging to see that women are not just surviving in the trades in Canterbury, but they are also thriving.

In December, women took out 17 of CPIT’s 50 trade awards.

And it’s not just construction in Canterbury that will benefit from utilising women’s skills. Construction in Auckland is booming.

Other more male-dominated industries such as livestock farming, meat processing and forestry are experiencing growth in many regions, including Canterbury, and more of these roles could be filled by women.

Truck drivers are also on the Canterbury skills shortage list.

The report’s outline

There are many silver linings to the work that’s been done here, many of which are outlined in this Getting it done report.

These include how to develop the local economy, address skill shortages, develop a skilled workforce and improve girls’ and women’s career prospects.

The Getting it done report outlines a five step action plan to help you get started:

  1. Start with a business case for increasing labour supply using women’s untapped labour.
  2. Collaborate. Partner with local organisations and businesses. This might include training organisations to develop the skills you are looking for.
  3. Increase women’s visibility in your industry to create a new normal.
  4. Treasure what you measure. Identify measurable targets so you will know when you have been successful.
  5. Lead from where you are. Make the most of the leadership talent you have. This might be in your organisation, or leaders in your community.


My challenge to you is to take intentional actions in your organisations to better utilise women’s skills.

I also urge you to commit to initiatives that will not only make a difference for women but for your business, for Canterbury and for the New Zealand economy.

We can do it.

Thank you.