There’s not much Gisborne’s Paare Ahuriri-Leach can’t do on a worksite.
In her six years in civil infrastructure with JT Contractors she’s done everything from field work and machine operation to quality assurance and administration. She’s a dab hand on an excavator or roller and won’t think twice about jumping into the cab of a truck.
It’s this wide variety of on-the-job tasks that keeps the industry interesting, she says.
“I get to do a lot of different things … I enjoy quality assurance as I quite like being the boss of the site.”
The 28-year-old is one of a growing number of women in civil construction. She credits fellow East Cape contractor Kat Kaiwai as one of those who inspired her during her career, and says she has been pleased to see more women giving civil infrastructure a try.
“My dad’s been in the industry my whole life and I only have brothers so I guess it was an obvious choice for me,” Paare says. “But there are definitely a whole lot more women in the industry now than when I started doing roading summer jobs in high school.”
She says people outside the industry see infrastructure work as male-dominated and not a good fit for women, but the reality of a modern civil construction site is different.
“It’s not like that these days. The guys on site all have your back.”
Fulton Hogan engineer and Ancillary Projects Department Manager Arden Hermans agrees times are changing.
When she got into the infrastructure industry in 2017, she was one of only two female engineers among Fulton Hogan’s 250 Northland staff. The number of women has increased significantly since then and she says she was thrilled to find a recent roading project she worked on had a 50/50 split of male and female engineers, a group of female planners and designers, and even an all-female traffic management crew.
Arden says she had little awareness of the industry during her high school years but fell in love with civil infrastructure in her 20s.
She is now passionate about helping more women embrace the industry. She’s a member of the Women’s Infrastructure Network and has played a lead role in creating the annual Girls in Infrastructure event in Northland, with support from her employer Fulton Hogan and other major sponsors, including hosts Golden Bay Cement.
This year’s Girls in Infrastructure at Golden Bay Cement in Whangarei put girls behind the controls of tower cranes and excavators, as well as providing them with a personal tour of the massive cement factory. It also introduced them to infrastructure employers to help them consider opportunities in the industry and the EPIC career opportunities on offer.
The event was attended by more than 70 young women from local high schools, as well as a group referred by the Ministry of Social Development.
Arden hopes to continue growing the event and to create a blueprint that can be used for Girls in Infrastructure events elsewhere in New Zealand. She has already been approached by other people across the industry who are considering running similar events and she says she is more than willing to help.
“There are so many opportunities for females and the industry offers a great indoor and outdoor balance.
“It’s an industry that offers all sorts of careers, and not just jobs like engineering that are science based. More and more women are out there working on the tools as well.”
There are many benefits of having more gender diversity on civil worksites, Arden says, and this is increasingly understood by civil contracting companies in New Zealand.
“It’s so much more than just tidier lunchrooms”, she jokes. “More diversity brings different viewpoints and a whole different atmosphere. Women can often be more considered, less hot headed and more detail focused. Many of the female digger operators I’ve seen can do a cleaner and nicer job than the guys, and having both men and women on site can lead to friendly competition about who can do the job better.”
New Zealand industry training organisation Connexis offers qualifications that are eligible for support from the Government’s ‘free trades training’ Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund. This fund, along with the Government’s recently extended Apprenticeship Support Programme, can make infrastructure and trade training free by covering trainee and employer costs for relevant certificate and diploma level courses or civil infrastructure certificates and apprenticeships.
Chief Executive Kaarin Gaukrodger says 10 per cent of trade and technical apprentices were women in 2020, up from 3 per cent in 2010.
She says this increase is positive and suggests a growing awareness of opportunities for women in the industry, as well as changes in attitude about the value women bring on site. The growth in the number of females doing civil infrastructure apprenticeships is also being driven by Government investment in infrastructure that is expected to create more than 20,000 jobs through the fast tracking of projects.
“The latest Statistics NZ data show 22,000 women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. We hope women looking for a career change are considering the opportunities being made available to them through the free trades training. If they are not sure they are welcome to learn and have a taste of what our industries have to offer through our Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure initiative.”
Connexis also partners with employers and will be running series of Girls with High-Vis events throughout New Zealand in June. These events are supported by the Ministry of Education and provide female school students the opportunity to visit an infrastructure company with their school, get hands-on experience and hear from women in the industry.
Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Peter Silcock says many employers are “crying out” for more female employees and the growing number of industry events targeting women is positive.
“We’re thrilled to see more women entering the civil construction workforce. There’s a real shortage of workers and there’s no reason at all for women to hold back on seizing the opportunity.”
For more information about free trades training, or assistance getting into a Civil Infrastructure Apprenticeship, call a Connexis Infrastructure Industry Training Customer Service Account Manager (CSAM) on 0800 486 626 or visit connexis.org.nz. For employment opportunities, check out the Resources section of the EPIC website.
- Paare Ahuriri-Leach driving a roller on site.
- Arden Hermans says times are changing in the civil infrastructure industry.
- More than 70 young women attended this years Girls in Infrastructure event.
- A Northland high school student learning how to operate an excavator in virtual reality.