The innovative MIC program leaps across the Tasman to help address the suicide rate among construction workers in New Zealand.
“MATES In Construction actively encourages construction workers to keep an eye on their colleagues. It gives them information on how to recognise the warning signs and the confidence to intervene if they think that something is wrong.” - Scentre Group, Senior Contracts Administrator, Tim Ingham.
To enable our talent to thrive, one of Scentre Group’s eight diversity and inclusion pillars is the mental health and wellbeing of all employees. Our goal is to support our people to have balanced lives and healthy minds through a range of initiatives that contribute to a mentally healthy workplace and improve healthy behaviours.
Aligning with this goal not only for our employees but the wider construction industry in New Zealand, in October 2019, our Design & Construction team led the establishment of a suicide reduction charity, MATES in Construction (MIC). With rising suicide rates in New Zealand, particularly among construction workers, MIC seeks to help address the problem.
A 2019 BRANZ report, Suicide in the NZ Construction Industry Workforce, reports that in the year to June 2019, 685 people died by suicide and of these, 6.9% (47) were attributed to the construction industry. According to the report, suicides have been rising for four consecutive years with men accounting for three out of four cases. It was clear that something had to be done.
MIC was originally established in Australia in 2008 as a response to the high rate of suicide among Australian construction workers. Scentre Group became an accredited MIC partner in 2016, in line with its broader commitment to diversity and inclusion and the goal of creating a culture where employees feel safe to bring their whole selves to work.
The catalyst to catapult the MIC initiative across the Tasman Sea came after Scentre Group’s Tim Ingham moved to Auckland in 2016 to work on the company’s Westfield Newmarket development.
"I've worked on plenty of construction sites in Australia and have seen first-hand the positive impact of MIC on employee and contractor mental health. Soon after I arrived in New Zealand and was setting up our site health and wellbeing committee, I realised two things: firstly, MIC didn’t exist in New Zealand and secondly, it definitely should,” explains Tim.
Simultaneously, Tim’s colleagues, Darren Ellis, General Manager, Construction and Donny Carroll, Regional Design & Construction Risk Manager, had come to a similar conclusion. This led to Darren facilitating an information session for the Auckland construction market in 2017. The group then helped to form an Industry Steering Committee in 2018 and led a campaign to raise funds, coordinate stakeholders and launch the program in 2019.
Scentre Group offered its Westfield Newmarket development as a pilot site with opportunities for all employees and contractors to participate. In total, three MIC General Awareness Training (GAT) sessions were held at Westfield Newmarket, including the inaugural MIC GAT session. In total the training was delivered to approximately 250 staff and contractors.
The training has three tiers. GAT is the first which is delivered to everyone on a worksite. The second provides more in-depth information and resources to a group of selected participants. The third is the provision of mental health first-aid training to a smaller group of workers that helps them manage an immediate, critical incident.
Tim says the initiative is so successful because it is peer-to-peer.
“The focus of MIC is to be an antidote to the macho culture that can sometimes prevail in the construction world. It helps construction workers open themselves up to having real conversations with their colleagues and peers about things that actually matter,” he says.
After all the hard work establishing the program, MATES In Construction New Zealand CEO, Victoria McArthur, says it was exciting to finally launch the program in central Auckland in front of a packed room of industry, government agencies, local Iwi, member organisations, politicians, media and stakeholders.
“Industry has welcomed the introduction of the MATES programme with open arms and it couldn’t have come soon enough. The influence of the programme is already being felt on sites across Auckland with over 1300 workers inducted through General Awareness Training. We have already grown the team to four field officers and one case manager and see this further expanding to meet the growing demand,” she says.
“There is a lot happening behind the scenes with marketing the brand, precuring further partners, lobbying for Government support and forming our research and evaluation group. We are also looking to do a literacy review of materials and translations to ensure our audience can engage.”
"The reception that MATES has had here in NZ can be largely attributed to the ground work of the foundation organisations that drove its implementation into our industry. Leading this drive has been Scentre Group, who having worked with MATES in Australia and seeing its results, championed hard to bring the program across the Tasman,” - MATES In Construction New Zealand CEO, Victoria McArthur
Although Tim’s direct involvement is now largely complete, he says he will watch the nationwide roll-out of the program with great interest.
“I’m very pleased to have worked with the steering committee. MATES wanted to approach it in a very practical way so it can continue to grow organically, and that’s exactly what’s happening now, which is great.”