One year on from the devastating impact of Cyclone Gabrielle, Shayden Taumata remembers trying to clear her way through piles of slash higher than the grader machine she was driving to restore vital road links in the Bay of Plenty.

“We came through after the cyclone to clear accessways for families trapped in their homes – it was really cool to play a part in getting the community back on its feet.”

The 29-year-old machine operator and foreperson from Nūhaka was exceptionally proud to play a part in the cyclone recovery effort, where it was all hands on deck to clear the roads and get transport links up and running again.

It’s extreme weather events like those that keep her team on its toes and doing what it does best; responding to road closures caused by big slips or weather damage, she says.

“It’s a buzz to go out and open up the roads to keep communities safe.”

Shayden’s career in civil construction began back in early 2018 when she moved to Gisborne and, after contacting a recruitment agent looking for temporary work, started a job in road maintenance with a local company the very next day.

Following a stint working as a traffic controller, Shayden progressed to become Leading Hand for a construction crew. Along the way she picked up a Site Traffic Management Supervisor (STMS) qualification, Class One, Two and Four driving licences and a Wheels, Tracks and Rollers endorsement, seizing the opportunity to develop her skills.

Completing a Māori leadership programme gave Shayden extra confidence and skills that helped her move into a more senior position, as well as kindling a drive to set her sights on further personal development and study a civil engineering degree in the future.

Moving to Rotorua in 2023 saw her take the next step in her road maintenance career by applying for a role supervising a pavement renewal crew with her current employer Higgins, taking on a different role and a set of new challenges in a different region.

Shayden says she enjoys the variety of facing fresh challenges every day and constantly learning new skills as it means she never gets bored.

“I love travelling the countryside, meeting new people and there always being something new to learn – every job’s different.”

She now leads five road rehabilitation operators in her team plus a traffic management team that provides essential support. Between them they handle earthworks and road repairs throughout the eastern Bay of Plenty, sometimes driving two hours to get to a job.

A typical day will start with a morning meeting with all crews involved to discuss the requirements for the job they’re working on that day, co-ordinating her traffic management team and getting everyone’s input on any safety issues that might arise before setting out on the day’s work. Her experience in different job roles, and ability to operate heavy machinery from 30-tonne excavators to graders and trucks, gives her the edge when it comes to leading her team and training them up.

After the success she has experienced in road maintenance Shayden encourages more females to get into the industry.

“Females can do just as well in the road maintenance industry as males: they’re particular about making sure jobs are completed to a high standard, keeping sites tidy and looking after their equipment – it would be great to see more of them come through.”

She says road maintenance would suit anyone who enjoys learning new skills and likes the idea of being able to develop their career quickly.

“You can be whatever you want to be and play whatever role you want in this industry, if you keep going with it the options are pretty much never-ending.”