Mike Paranihi-Haami used to be at the freezing works, chopping up animal carcasses for a living and dreaming of working outside in the open air.

These days he’s swapped overalls and white gumboots for high-vis and heavy machinery to build a career – and some of Whanganui’s most high-profile infrastructure – in New Zealand’s booming civil construction industry.

It’s a career change the 26-year-old says he will never regret, and one that’s seen him graduate from field worker to heavy machinery operator, moving rocks as large as 20 tonnes to construct sea walls for the $50 million Whanganui port revitalisation project Te Pūwaha.

“I’ve been enjoying the outdoors and the experience on all types of machinery,” Mike says.

Working with Cashmore Contracting, the “born and bred” Whanganui local is part of a dedicated crew that worked throughout 2022 to expand the port facilities to turn it into a state-of-the-art marine resource.

The port project will benefit the local community as well as the regional economy with enhanced flood prevention and a modern marine precinct. A new mobile boat hoist with a 380-tonne lift capacity allows repair, maintenance and building of boats and supports the employment of people from the local areas.

Mike’s work repairing more than 900 metres of embankment from the port to the ’North Mole’ was one of the first phases of the multi-year project. The North Mole is a huge stone wall that acts as a pier and is now a major drawcard for locals who enjoy surfing, fishing, or just a place to hang out and enjoy the view.

Mike says the project was the ideal first step into the civil construction industry and he has enjoyed working with and learning from the Cashmore Contracting team.

“They’re a real good team – everyone gets along.”

With his part in Te Pūwaha completed, he’s now commuting to Palmerston North, to put the skills he developed to use building large-scale rock retaining walls to protect riverside areas from flooding.

He has also experienced a stint operating front-end loaders on some of the quarries Cashmore Contracting operates, exposing him to another area of the industry that he might well dig deeper into in future.

Mike’s advice to people considering a career in civil construction is to take any opportunities that come their way.

“If they give you a chance just have a go at it, you’re not going to be the best at it, but you’ll get there eventually.”

According to the Rautaki Hanganga o Aotearoa – New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy, New Zealand will need more than 100,000 more construction workers in the years ahead to tackle critically important infrastructure projects in the years ahead.

Cashmore Contracting specialises in civil construction work, forestry and waste collection, employing 30 people in the Whanganui region.