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INVESTING IN DOWNER IS COMMITTED TO BUILDING ITS OWN TALENT PIPELINE, AND IT’S PAYING OFF FOR CUSTOMERS PEOPLE CHRIS MEADE EXECUTIVE GENERAL MANAGER HR Partnering with clients like Chorus, Auckland Transport, Contact Energy, Vodafone and the NZ Transport Agency, Downer’s operation has around 5,000 people, most of whom are in some sort of personal development programme or training funded by the company. It’s a multi-million dollar investment that, in the context of a serious skills shortage, is critical not only to the future of its business but also to New Zealand. “The shortage of qualified engineers and technicians is a challenge faced by all companies in the construction and technology sectors” explains Chris Meade, Downer’s Executive General Manager HR. “Due in part to the end of state funded apprenticeship and cadet schemes, which removed an important qualification base, “the net result is a skills gap in the 30 to 40 year old age bracket, exacerbated by the fact that few young people are attracted to the industry,” says Meade. Downer’s response was to ‘bite the bullet’, and around seven years ago the company began investing significantly in talent building, and it’s paying off already. “WE NOW HAVE A REALLY STRONG TALENT PIPELINE MADE UP OF APPRENTICES, CADETS, GRADUATES AND MANAGERS,” says Meade. “And we are feeding our young people through structured industry training leading to recognised qualifications. The name of the game is to cultivate people who can run the big projects that are part of New Zealand’s business growth agenda.” Projects like the UltraFast Broadband rollout, in which Downer is heavily involved, and which require not only traditional skill sets, but also skill sets that relate to new technologies. “Not forgetting the Christchurch rebuild’” says Meade, “which is creating unprecedented need for people with the experience to handle large construction work - project engineers, project managers, quantity surveyors, estimators and supervisors. I am talking about a critical shortage of people with seven or more years’ experience.” As Meade points out, there is no shortcut: “You can’t produce an experienced engineer or horizontal driller quickly. All you can do is feed them in at base level and then provide the structured and on the job learning and development they need to bridge the gap. We are geared to accelerate the process with extra training, mentoring and coaching, and it’s not unheard of for Downer to supplement its workforce with specialised and experienced people from overseas, but this only addresses part of the equation. The skills shortage is as much about the basics as it is specialist areas. Over 40% of people in New Zealand have difficult with literacy and numeracy,” explains Meade. “In our experience, people who leave school early with literacy and numeracy issues, often lose the confidence to ‘give it a go’, relying on others to translate instructions and company guidelines. In today’s environment it is vital to understand health and safety risks - through signs, policies, critical risk tools, hazard identification and documentation. It is an essential part of the job. And the work itself requires high levels of teamwork, communication, accuracy in measurement and recording, and of course increasing levels of computerisation and the need for good technology skills.” A major part of Downer’s investment in skills development is in literacy, numeracy and communication. Meade calls it ‘learning to learn’ training. “It is about helping people to brush up and refresh their skills to give them the confidence to start learning again,” she says. “We are picking up the slack of an ineffective education system.” Identifying talent is an ongoing project for Meade’s human resources team. Human Resources Advisors work with the business to track and monitor the progress of all employees, making sure that each one gets the opportunity for personal development. “DOWNER’S MANTRA IS THAT ANYONE WHO WANTS TO LEARN WILL BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, and our work environment encourages people to be the best they can be,” says Meade. This applies not only at the entry level but all the way through to management, adds Meade: “We have been working to lift the bar right across the board in terms of leadership. Transforming the business has been bottom up and top down at the same time. When I looked around at the 160 participants at our recent Downer Leadership Conference, I was amazed at the depth of talent and the diversity within the leadership ranks – diversity not only in terms of generation X,Y and Z, but also the gender and ethnicity mix. “Leadership development has been a serious and consistent investment for the past five years. We run a three-level leadership scheme called the ‘Inspiring Leaders’ programme,” says Meade. “It helps us to develop front-line leaders, operational leaders and business leaders. A further fourth-tier programme called ‘Aspiring Leaders’ embraces the raw leadership talent that we find within the crews.” When it comes to learning and development, the last thing the company does is send employees to a classroom. It prefers to have them learn on the job, or to be guided by a trained mentor.“We subscribe to the 70, 20, 10 model,” says Meade. “Seventy per cent of learning occurs in the workplace, 20 per cent is mentoring and coaching, and 10 per cent is in formal programmes. “We put people on interesting projects and place them on secondment as part of project teams to do a specific job for a set period. “The 10 per cent is in the classroom, where we run leadership programmes, project management training, and various technical courses.” Meade says that the company’s learning and development programmes are reviewed every two years – to check that they are still current and to add to the mix. 18 / DOWNER / IN BLACK & WHITE


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