This year’s road maintenance season is the largest in New Zealand’s history, with a massive $400 million earmarked for road renewals. There’s never been a better time for practical people who enjoy working outside to grab the wheel of opportunity and steer their career forwards.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s annual state highway road maintenance programme aims to maintain almost 2,500 lane kilometres of road this season – to put that in perspective that’s more than three times the length of New Zealand’s North Island!
With extreme rain events hitting hard in November and December, renewal programmes have also been pushed back to the first quarter of 2023 to hit the dry season where road maintenance is possible – creating great demand for various essential roles across the country.
One region where road maintenance teams have been busy this year is the South Island’s West Coast, which was hit hard by severe flooding repeatedly throughout 2022.
We spoke with Moira Whinham, Waka Kotahi maintenance contract manager for the West Coast Network Outcomes Contract, to find out more about the challenges road maintenance crews face, what it’s like to work in the industry, and why now is the perfect time for career seekers to consider roles in road maintenance.
Moira says there is a massive shortage of people within the industry and every role is an important link in the chain of a huge team that keep New Zealand’s roads running.
She says the road maintenance industry is unique because it offers a wide range of entry level roles for people to cut their teeth on. Often these roles provide the experience and knowledge required to progress to other roles – once you set out on your career journey the final destination is up to you.
“Road maintenance is unique and no two days are the same. There’s a lot of emergency preparedness and response work involved too. It keeps you on your toes.”
Moira’s teams look after 868 lane kilometres of highway spanning from the small West Coast coastal settlement of Mokihinui in the north to the elevated heights of Haast Pass in the south, rising 1,866 feet above sea level. Maintaining 140 to 160 km of road is a normal year’s work for the intrepid road crews she manages – making it one of the busiest regions in the country for road maintenance.
Moira says flooding is a challenge on the West Coast, with an average annual rainfall of approximately four metres experienced across the region. However, instead of using flooding as an excuse to fail to complete projects, Moira says her team takes a strategic approach and plans work programmes around expected weather events. They take pride in making sure they keep their turf in good shape.
She says road maintenance not only keeps roads open for travellers and holidaymakers, but also for commercial transport to supply businesses with goods.
“I like what we do for the community. New Zealand Inc is important and people being able to get from A to B is important, whether for work or personal or health reasons. I like that ownership we feel, the contribution to the greater good and the challenge.”
Those working in the industry quickly gain an appreciation of the difference they and their teams make for everyone around them. Working in a team also lets them see what other roles they might be interested in developing into in future, Moira says.
“I think being curious is an important skill for people in our industry. You’ve got to want to do a good job and see value in what you do – understand the value your part of the work offers … the one person you see standing and operating the stop go sign is just one part of the massive team effort that goes into road maintenance.”
She says the industry provides opportunities to learn new skills, travel to different places, and make new friends by working in different teams. And with such a diverse range of roles on offer, people of all backgrounds are welcome to bring their culture and unique skills to the table.
The jobs most in demand are general labourers, experienced machine operators, material specialists, laboratory technicians and engineers. But if you like working outside and you’ve got the right attitude there’s likely to be a role for almost anyone, Moira says.
Waka Kotahi’s National Land Transport Programme budget this financial year is $2.8 billion, with the following year expected to be of a similar size.
The constant grind of wear and tear on New Zealand’s roads, as well as continuing epic challenges posed by extreme weather events, mean that capable and practical people will continue to play a crucial role in the epic mission of caring for New Zealand’s roads and keeping the people who travel on them safe.
FIVE EPIC JOBS YOU COULD BE DOING IN THE INDUSTRY
1. Field workers
All sorts of hands-on work awaits you – variety is the spice of manual labour. No day will be the same and it’s a great way to slot into the team without having to have any prior experience.
An ideal stepping-stone type role before you level up your career.
Attitude is key rather than existing qualifications.
Discover Jake Alderson’s journey from field worker to foreman
2. Traffic controllers
Making sure traffic flows smoothly and safely means looking after the team in more ways than one. You’ll be able to go for opportunities at projects happening all across the country.
Completing a one-day Level 1 Basic Traffic Controller course is required – often this can be arranged by your employer.
Find out about Fiona Jerry’s journey from traffic control to management
3. Machine operators
So you can drive a car, but can you drive a truck, heavy roller, or 30 tonne digger? There are some huge toys out there and it’s a well-paid playground. Get the appropriate licence type and it’s game on.
Plenty of work on the roads means there will be lots of motors running to choose from.
Love the big gear? Check out Keith Matheson’s journey, starting out as a machine operator
4. Asset and contract managers
Play an essential role in keeping track of key assets like tools, construction equipment, computer equipment and facilities.
Without knowing who has what, and where, a project is likely to face delay – asset managers make sure assets are in the right place at the right time with the right person.
This is a role that counts.
Hear the story of how Jay Dangwal arrived at his career destination
5. Pavement and laboratory technicians
Work behind the scenes in a laboratory to keep roads in tip top shape by ensuring roading materials are up to scratch. Great if you’ve got a scientific bent.
You’ll be involved in testing materials and creating new ones for specialist use such as airport runways. The role involves getting outside to liaise with road crews so you won’t be inside all the time.
If you’re willing to learn you can start straight out of school.