When the first Covid lockdown hit New Zealand in March 2020, there wasn’t much work for young baker Jamie Leitch. But he made his way to civil infrastructure construction, and now he’s found a rewarding career, working in the great outdoors and travelling New Zealand’s countryside to resurface roads.

It wasn’t always this way. At the start of the pandemic, needing money and looking around for any available option, he took a job with HEB Construction sanitising its Auckland offices to make them safe for the return of staff when the lockdown ended.

“Around Covid hospitality kind of died, I lost my job and wanted to find some work,” he says.

The cleaning proved to be just the foot in the door he needed and less than two months later an opportunity arose for him to try his hand as a store person organising and issuing machinery and equipment in the workshop at HEB’s Auckland depot.

Despite having no past experience in civil construction, Jamie says he was keen to give the job a go. It was in the workshop that he developed an interest in road surfacing, thanks largely to his daily conversations with HEB’s roading teams and helping to manage the impressive machinery they use.

“When I started with HEB I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I’d never thought about getting into civil construction work – it’s a cool industry to be part of.”

His practical approach and natural ability to get on with people saw him offered a place on HEB’s cadetship programme at the end of 2022, with the goal of developing into a project engineer.

Since then he has been rotating through HEB’s road surfacing teams on jobs throughout New Zealand to learn skills on-the-job.

“One of the joys of the job is that you get to go away to some pretty cool places and after work you might be able to drive five minutes and go for a surf or a dive.

“We’re not stuck on the same job site for three months – we get to travel heaps and pretty much every day we’re at a new location.”

Jamie says road surfacing might not be as high-profile as building a bridge or port, but it’s crucial work and he gets paid to travel the country.

Stints working in Taupō, Rotorua, Marlborough and Bay of Plenty have all been provided opportunities to pick up practical leadership skills by observing the leaders of the surfacing crews, the 23-year-old says.

“Experiencing different leadership styles helps you figure out how you want to lead teams in the future, it’s something you wouldn’t really learn at university.”

He enjoys learning something new every day and putting new skills into practice on each new site he goes to.

Laying asphalt and chipseal is a team effort, and “none of it happens without the people,” he says.

“Getting along with people is important, no matter what the task at hand is, because the job is hugely people-based. Everyone’s got to work together well.

“It’s a very cool environment to be working in – more than just a job. Everyone works well together and we make a great team. Practical people with a good attitude would fit right into the industry.”

Jamie has recently returned to Auckland after finishing a project in the Bay of Plenty. His next stop is Hamilton, where he will continue his cadetship and project engineer dream on another resurfacing project.