From Auckland’s City Rail Link to major regional projects like Te Ahu a Turanga – Manawatu Tararua Highway, civil infrastructure is hotter than a Central Otago summer right now. If you are looking to enter the job market – or if you’re considering a career change – the industry offers a wealth of opportunities, particularly for those who are practical, positive, and into building big things.
We talked to three industry experts – Roald Badenhorst, Civil Construction Division Manager at Stellar Recruitment; Harley Haywood, CEO at Utilities Infrastructure New Zealand; and Russell Dendulk, HR Manager at SouthRoads to get the lowdown on what career seekers should keep in mind if they want to land a job in the industry.
Attitude trumps qualifications
Across all three experts, the response was the same: With the right attitude, anyone interested in civil infrastructure can go far.
“You can progress your career really quickly,” Roald says. “It’s very possible to go from machine operator to leading hand or drain layer to foreman in a timeframe of eighteen months to two years.”
In civil infrastructure, qualifications are less important than attitude. Relevant qualifications, licences and certifications – such as Infrastructure Works Level 3 or the always good-to-have Wheels, Tracks and Rollers License Endorsement – can be earned, and experience can be gained, but attitude is impossible to teach.
There’s no need to go to university or polytech for many of the jobs in the industry, as a lot of companies will go out of their way to train a fresh employee. And being proactive is a big part of that sought-after attitude. A prospect who can take the initiative demonstrates a desire to improve – a trait that’s highly valued in any field, but even more so in civil infrastructure construction.
“Remember that upskilling is part of every job, and you will need to continue to upskill,” Russell says.
“Try and set yourself up for this: a space at home, with a computer available, as well as your own computer skills, numeracy and literacy skills. Often your employer will help with this, but they will like to see you putting in the effort.”
Money isn’t everything
Make no mistake – the money in civil infrastructure can be attractive. But the work can be physical, and it sometimes involves long shifts. Those who succeed in civil construction are passionate about the work and gain satisfaction from seeing communities benefitting from the infrastructure they have helped create.
“It’s the people who get a kick out of building something from the foundations up,” Roald says.
“Something you can drive past and say ‘I built that.’ People who are practically minded, who are hands on, who enjoy being fit … you’re outside on your feet a lot. People who look at the positives rather than the negatives.”
Money pays the bills, but passion gets the thrills, and what could be more thrilling than operating heavy machinery to build projects that serve the community and the country? Also, a bit of personal grit and the willingness to go the extra mile when needed always go over well.
“Construction is a hard industry, so you need to enjoy what you do” Harley says. You might have a hard ten hours of work, and if you don’t enjoy those ten hours a day, getting up the next morning can be struggle.
“Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the work, then maybe the industry’s not for you.”
Not just for the boys
When asked if women can also flourish in the industry Roald has a simple answer: “100 percent.”
Women can pick up machine skills just as well as the guys and many of the skills required to succeed can be learnt on the job if someone doesn’t have prior experience on a work site, he says.
“Women bring a different perspective. They bring fresh ideas and a different way of thinking, and that can lift the standards of an entire team or worksite.”
Health and safety has to be your priority
As with any job involving heavy machinery, health and safety is paramount. Gone are the days when people joke about health and safety on a work site – it’s a critical part of the job and being safety conscious is highly valued.
As Russell puts it, “understand that safety is part of the job, not an inconvenience.”
Roald agrees, saying there’s a big focus on ensuring people have the skills and license class they need before they hop onto a piece of machinery, and alcohol and drug testing are commonplace.
“It comes down to this: If you can pass the drug and alcohol test, that’s a good start,” Roald says. “If you’ve got a Class 1 license, that’s really good. If you’ve got reliable transportation, that’s good as well. If our prospects passed those three conditions, they’d get an interview 95 per cent of the time.”
Consider which roles are in demand
All three experts agreed that practicality and the ability to muck in and build are important characteristics for anybody looking to get a job in civil construction. But there are some jobs in the industry that are even more in demand than others.
“Three Waters projects are big,” Harley says. And he would know, his company is heavily involved in three waters work, which involves laying underground pipes for drinking water, stormwater and wastewater.
“There’s huge demand for three waters installers and maintenance, so prospects are good for people who want to become pipe layers and drain layers.”
Roald agrees there are plenty of jobs water infrastructure jobs available. However, he says there’s also huge opportunity for people who are keen to work in in roading, as well as in more specialised or niche areas of the civil construction industry.
“Generally, we need people all over at the skilled field worker level. Whether they’ve been in the trenches laying pipe as a drain layer or people who’ve done some concrete work. And machine operators are in great demand, so those who can drive excavators, bulldozers, dump trucks, rollers.
“There’s a very big skills shortage, and now that we have some really large infrastructure projects in New Zealand, there are also some more technical jobs in tunnelling, or as riggers and crane operators.”
Find a company and team that fits
Forging a career in civil infrastructure can be fast or it can take time, depending on how far up the career ladder you want to progress.
“I started when I was 16, so I’ve been in the industry since 2006,” Harley says. “We’ve got guys in the industry that have been here 20 years. They’ve reached a certain point and have decided that they’re good where they are. Then we’ve got young guys that are in foreman roles that want to be project managers, so we make a career track for them.
“You’ve got to choose the right company. If you’re looking for a job, you can get a job anywhere. But if you’re looking for a career, you have to think differently and consider who you will be working with and how they will help you develop. There’s a big difference between a job and a career.”
Sounds great. How do I get started?
A good place to start is job advertisements on Seek.co.nz or the recruitment pages on civil construction company websites. Many companies are offering entry level positions.
Recruitment companies can also provide a foot in the door, and if you have friends of family in the industry, it’s a good idea to ask them about the work and how they got started.
Other options include regional skills hubs, school careers advisors – both of which can provide guidance and help set up interviews with prospective employers.