Caring for the environment and making sure the roads that connect Bay of Plenty communities are maintained to the highest standard are all in a day’s work for Hollie Atarau.

The Whakatane local has been with Waiotahi Contractors for 24 years, working her way up from the reception desk to her current role as Quality and Environmental Manager.

Along the way she’s been a traffic management supervisor, engineering assistant, contracts administrator and project manager, helping Waiotahi’s 170-strong team deliver road maintenance, subdivisions and other projects across the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Hollie says managing environmental impacts is critical in civil construction; an industry that involves epic projects and largescale earthworks, sometimes transforming whole landscapes.

“We don’t want to damage the environment while doing our work so we do everything we can to avoid it. We want rivers in the Bay of Plenty to be swimmable and a lot of our team love fishing so they want the waterways to be healthy too.

“When we’re working on a road or subdivision we’re making sure we’re not discharging dirty water. Dust control is important during the summer months so we use water carts for dust suppression as well as managing erosion on the sites we work on. It is mandatory for our team members to carry out daily inspections of their machinery to avoid any potential oil, diesel, or hydraulic fluid leaks.”

Working smarter, not harder

A large part of Hollie’s job involves monitoring, whether for a road sealing job, earthworks at a new subdivision, or excavation at a quarry, to ensure the environment is being protected and regulatory requirements and quality standards are followed.

“We operate four quarries, with 18 resource consents between them, so there’s a few conditions to comply with, as well as making sure we are meeting all our ISO requirements.”

To make things easier, Hollie has used an app called Jotform to come up with a solution Waiotahi Team members can use to upload photos and leave notes that show a record of how all site requirements are being met.

“The team can now press the mic button, record their voice, and it transfers to text onto the inspection form. Once the form is complete and they press the submit button, it then comes straight to me. We’re always looking for ways to improve and the app has been a real time saver.”

The app allows her to do quality and environmental checks of some sites remotely and Waiotahi also uses it to house training videos for new team members or people who want to refresh their memory.

It was this innovative approach, as well as her commitment to the industry, that earned her ‘highly commended’ in the Excellence in Construction Administration category of the 2022 National Association of Women in Construction Excellence Awards.

Working through Cyclone Gabrielle’s aftermath

Hollie says every day in civil construction is different, and that’s one of the things she loves about it. In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle the team had a mammoth task ahead of them to clean up slips and damage to roads around the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

As Waiotahi’s teams responded to roading issues – at all hours of the day and night – they sometimes found themselves in the position of first responder for residents who had been severely impacted by the weather.

“We weren’t hit like the Hawke’s Bay but we were still really busy. One of our teams was on call cleaning up the highway and they came across a couple on the side of the road in the middle of the storm. The couple had just lost their home to a major slip so our team drove them 20 minutes into the nearest town to the safety of their daughter’s house.”

It’s stories like these, and the need to think on your feet daily, that provide a sense of pride and keep the job interesting, Hollie says.

She wasn’t always going to work in civil construction, but she’s glad she did

While Hollie absolutely loves her job, she admits her career journey has been far from straight-forward. When she was at high school she was planning to be a teacher but her life changed at 17 when her boyfriend at the time passed away in a road accident.

“I was really lost. My mum encouraged me to find a job and an opportunity came up working on reception with Waiotahi. I pretty much fell into it, but I’ve never looked back.”

Hollie has completed a range of qualifications while on the job, including a National Certificate in Civil Infrastructure, New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works Contract Management (Level 5), and National Certificate in Civil Infrastructure Health, Safety and Environment Operations. She also gained her Wheels, Tracks and Rollers certification to enable her to operate heavy machinery on civil construction worksites.

These qualifications have all been paid for by Waiotahi and they have played an important part in helping her upskill and progress her career over the past two decades.

“I like construction, it’s really diverse. You can study while you’re working, and the industry pays pretty well too.”

More women joining the industry

Hollie is passionate about encouraging more women into civil construction and says it has changed a lot over the past two decades. While some might set their sights on a role as an environmental engineer or environmental manager, others can start out working on the tools of the civil trades and work towards a trade qualification.

“You see a lot of female operators now, and a lot of women working as project managers.

“We have a woman running our cyclic maintenance crew and as the secretary to the Waiotahi Board of Directors, I frequently contribute my perspective during board meetings, which the directors value and appreciate.”

Hollie’s suggestion to anyone considering a career in civil construction is to “just do it”.

“If you’re still in school, go talk to your careers advisor and find out about local careers events in your area. Or you can just get out and talk to a local contractor in your area to see if they have any opportunities.

“Start on a shovel and work your way up – the world’s your oyster in construction.”