When he left New Zealand’s shores as a teenager, Fabian Bracken planned on living the endless summer, surfing the days away across Australia’s bounty of beaches. There’s less time for surfing these days for Fabian, but he says the opportunity to work back home in Taranaki while raising his young family and building a thriving career as regional manager for Connell Contractors goes one step better.
Based out of New Plymouth, Fabian’s region traverses the North Island, cutting across to Napier and then covering anything south of that imaginary line. With a team of around 18 full-time staff, as well as up to 15 labour hire and sub-contractors at any one time, it’s a job that requires plenty of oversight, so it’s a good thing he has worked in a wide variety of roles in his eight years in civil construction.
Now aged 30, Fabian’s career is a true ’worked his way up from the bottom’ classic, starting as a general hand back in 2015. After an initial two-year stint with another company he took on a job as a formwork carpenter for Connell. From there, he went on to become a foreman and then contract supervisor, followed by contracts manager, until reaching regional manager near the end of last year. An impressive evolution in only eight years.
Much of Fabian’s work is in support of Transpower’s nationwide upgrade of its substations, and he’s worked his way around most of the country. From wind farms to substations to gas plants, Fabian has seen some wild days and some challenging jobs, including “the gnarliest electrical cable haul done over the past few years” through Wellington’s CBD.
“There was one site, in Tangiwai, behind Ohakune,” says Fabian. “I wasn’t there on the day, but our staff were told they had to get out of there because of the incoming weather. The next day, they got sent photos, and the 23-tonne digger had snow up to the tops of its tracks.
“And we’ve worked up on the ranges behind Palmerston North, doing transmission towers under helicopters. There were some days, we had three helicopters in the air carrying concrete and reinforcing material, and you’re trying to coordinate that. But that’s what I live for, I love those kinds of challenging projects. The ones that make you think, you learn a lot on them, and the satisfaction at the end of them with the crew, it’s awesome.”
A big part of what gets Fabian out of bed on those early mornings is the variety of the work. He doesn’t get into the field every single day now he’s regional manager, but he still gets to at least two sites a week, sometimes on lone there-and-back day trips to Napier from Taranaki.
“You don’t turn up and do the same job day-in, day-out. You’re constantly doing different things. You could be doing formwork for foundations, placing concrete, laying pipes, dropping in manholes…it’s just the variety of it.”
Another aspect of the job that drives Fabian is the self-satisfaction of building New Zealand’s infrastructure future.
“Most builders drive around the country or their town and say ‘I built that house,’ whereas I drive around the country and say ‘I built that substation.’ It’s nice knowing that you’re contributing back to some pretty important infrastructure.”
Fabian has a number of young up-and-comers on his team, and thinks civil construction is a great career for those willing to muck in and learn while doing.
“The main thing for young people is you’ve just got to set goals. I never used to set goals until I had a colourful discussion with my old boss, and he pretty much told me you’re not going to get there. So, I set that goal as my five-year plan and I hit it in two years. From that point on, I have been constantly re-setting my five-year target – it sounds cheesy, but it is really important to have something to work towards.”
He says the Civil Trades Certification scheme run by Civil Contractors New Zealand and the Connexis Infrastructure Works qualifications and apprenticeships that support it are a big help on that front as they allow people to demonstrate their expertise to the industry by becoming Certified Tradespeople.
“We push all of our team to get into that and I’d say around 80 per cent of the Connell team in my region have signed up for it now. I’ve got one guy down here, he would be 25 now. He’s been with us for three years, and he’s done three of their certifications and is now working on his fourth.”
Fabian also values the industry support and recognition he has personally received over the years, including the Z People Emerging Leader Award he was presented with at the Civil Contractors New Zealand National Conference in Christchurch last year.
It doesn’t matter where on the ladder you start, as Fabian has proven through his rapid rise, as practical experience and training can soon lead to career success through attitude alone.
“Just make the leap. Turn up to work and work hard. Degrees are good, and studying is great, but getting out there as a labourer or a general hand and doing a massive variety of work, the stuff you can learn, if you listen to people and put the effort in, I think that’s far more worthwhile.”