The damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle and other major weather events earlier this year has highlighted the vital importance road maintenance workers play in keeping New Zealand communities connected.
It’s a career that makes a real difference in Kiwi’s lives, and one which sees workers operating outdoors as part of a close-knit team to come up with solutions that will keep traffic flowing safety and efficiently.
But unlike other career choices, it’s not always obvious how to get your start in road maintenance.
When it comes to working on our country’s roads, the tried-and-true method of learning on the job is a perfectly valid pathway that can later lead into specialist positions or take you all the way up into management. That doesn’t stop you from fast-tracking your career options by taking other educational opportunities to level up your skills.
Having a Class 1 driving licence is a critical initial requirement, but beyond that there are many routes you can take to pave a successful career in the road maintenance and civil construction industry.
On the job learning
The common advice to people thinking of starting out in road maintenance is simply to get out there and get stuck in. Field workers, labourers, traffic controllers, as well as pavement and laboratory technicians can start straight out of school and learn the skills they need.
Often employers will work with employees to arrange training to fill skill gaps when they are required, and some employers offer mentor programmes to help make the first few weeks or months easier.
It might sound too good to be true in some industries, but in road maintenance there are plenty of stories of people who have started out as a field worker and worked their way up (read Hannah Cocker’s road from stop-go to management, Fabian Bracken’s journey from general hand to regional manager or Tania Wihongi’s experience going from field worker to crew leader). All you need is determination, the ability to work well as part of a team and a willingness to keep learning and improving your craft every day.
Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology
Polytechnics offer a range of courses relevant to the road maintenance sector and tend to focus on applied skills. While many people undertake study at polytech in order to get a foot in the door, others go straight into a road maintenance career and study part time – with the support of their employers, to gain more specialised skills.
Certain roles require certain qualifications. For example, to become a surveyor a Diploma in Surveying is required. Workers driving heavy machinery need to complete a Wheels, Tracks and Rollers course, and workers assisting with traffic management operations require a Temporary Traffic Manager Worker qualification – both of these can be done through some polytechs, and a range of other training institutes also offer them, often arranged by an employer.
Other qualifications are not necessary but can boost student’s knowledge and job prospects – Tai Poutini Polytechnic offers a digger and construction training programme known locally as the ‘Digger School’ to teach heavy machinery skills and link students with industry contacts.
The New Zealand Institute of Highway Technology, based in Taranaki, offers a wide range of road maintenance specific courses to suit applicants with different levels of experience. Examples range from bitumen, asphalt and chipseal specific courses, to bridge maintenance and roading design qualifications, and engineering degrees.
The Manukau Institute of Technology offers various trade and construction courses at their award-winning MIT TechPark.
These courses can result in a New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works qualification, which can help workers move into or further their infrastructure industry career and can be taken at different levels – from basic to advanced.
Polytechnics also offer higher level full-time qualifications such as Otago Polytech’s two-year New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Civil Engineering).
University study isn’t a pre-requisite for most road maintenance jobs, but it can provide a possible pathway into some road maintenance roles, such as civil, geotechnical or environmental engineering.
University of Auckland offers a range of civil engineering courses, ranging from a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours and a Postgraduate Diploma in Engineering to a Master of Engineering degree.
University of Canterbury also offers engineering degrees, along with a groundbreaking Pavement Engineering course that gives a solid foundation in the creation and design of pavement structures, how pavements are affected by vehicles that travel on them and the environmental aspects they interact with.
Many other New Zealand universities, including Victoria University of Wellington and Waikato University, among others, offer engineering degrees too.
Specialist training organisations
When it comes to learning specialist skills, there is a wide range of options.
New Zealand-owned Axiom Training offers over 80 specific training courses in skills ranging from dangerous goods handling, operating tower cranes, driver licences, and workplace safety.
If you are working at heights or in tricky places to access you could upskill yourself by taking specialist high ropes course to increase both your earning potential and job opportunities within your workplace. This type of training is also described as IRATA (International Rope Access Trade Association). Specialist providers handle the training required, options include Heads Up Training and 5th Point.
The Outward Bound Whakatipu course is another good option, offering life skills wrapped up in an adventure. Its aim is to set school age youth up for success in the world of work. Key skills developed on the course include communication, problem solving, decision making, self-confidence, time management and resilience. A safe, supportive environment allows personal whakatipu (growth) to happen naturally.
Apprenticeships are a great way to achieve formal recognition as a skilled trades person. A Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeship can be achieved through a combination of on-the-job learning and off-job courses.
They are suitable for all ages and count towards a Civil Trades Certification. This is a nationally recognised certification that confirms your knowledge and experience – making you stand out to employers.
Connexis administers the Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeships scheme, which offers apprenticeships in bitumen surfacing construction, civil construction, forestry earthworks, piling, and pipeline construction and maintenance.
Regional Hubs and Infrastructure Skills Centres
Last, but not least, it’s important to remember you don’t have to go it alone when looking for a job in civil construction. Careers advisors can assist if you’re still in high school, Work and Income New Zealand can provide advice and assist with work placement, and there are also several regional hubs set up around the country with great industry contacts.
There are currently regional hubs in Auckland, Manawatū and Dunedin, set up by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of its Skills in Construction programme. As well as highlighting job opportunities the hubs also partner with employers and training providers to provide industry specific training to job seekers and those already in employment.
It’s well worth contacting your nearest regional hub to find out more about training opportunities that you can take advantage of – they are there to support you.
Infrastructure Skills Centres, launched by Civil Contractors NZ and industry players, are another option for people who want to take their first step towards your future in construction. CCNZ are currently setting up Skills Centres in different areas across New Zealand.
The Skills Centres offer new entrants to the industry the opportunity to build up a valuable range of infrastructure construction skills via a blend of theory and hands-on learning including site visits. Key life skills such as effective communication, mental health awareness and nutrition are also taught.
Large employers sometimes organise similar in-house courses to set employees up with entry-level skills and qualifications.
Want to start your career in road maintenance today? If you’re ready to make the leap into work, send us a message or contact an employer directly using the Civil Contractors New Zealand Find a Contractor map or EPIC road maintenance map.