When Corinne Piu arrived on Tonga’s main island on her way home after failing the first year of her engineering degree in New Zealand and losing her scholarship, it was to a clear message from her father: ‘You haven’t achieved your goal. I don’t want to see you back here until you do.’
It was tough, but it worked, Corinne says.
Her father, a qualified electrical engineer himself, signed her up for engineering subjects early on, defying traditional expectations about appropriate subjects for girls. She was the only female in her engineering class at high school and her father faced a lot of criticism, but he never wavered in his view that she should have the same options as any of the boys.
“The belief and encouragement from my father pushed me to carry on.
“I went back and it was hard work. I’d lost my scholarship, so I had to work full-time while studying for the first year. After the first year, I was able to apply for internal scholarships, based on my results, and that made it easier to focus on my studies in my second and third years as I didn’t have to work as much.”
And when she graduated with degree in civil engineering from Unitec in Auckland, her dad was there to celebrate, keeping his word that he would only travel overseas to see her graduate.
Corinne also wants people to know that failing doesn’t have to be the end of your story.
It was also a chance to figure out what she really enjoyed.
“I hadn’t really enjoyed electrical engineering and I’d always been interested in roads, but there hadn’t really been a pathway for it in Tonga, so when I came back to New Zealand I switched to civil engineering.”
That switch has seen her climb the ranks within road maintenance at Ventia over the past eight years. She started as a quality assurance engineer, before moving to maintenance engineer, maintenance manager, then into her current role as planning manager for the company’s Auckland West road maintenance contract.
Her earliest role as a quality assurance engineer remains one of her favourites.
“I spent 95 per cent of my time in that role working on-site. That is where the real work happens, with hands-on experience, building a wealth of knowledge of roadworks and good relationships with the ground crews.”
And while she enjoyed being on the ground, she’s also enjoyed the opportunities that have followed.
“A career in road maintenance or engineering doesn’t have to see you out on the tools forever – not if that’s not what you want long-term.
“There are lots of opportunities. Ventia has helped me develop a plan to become one of the future leaders in the business and supported that with training and development opportunities. This included supporting me to achieve my Master’s degree a few years ago, while working full time, as well as trips to Australia to attend our Emerging Leaders forum hosted by Roads Australia, and to undertake site visits.”
Her current role was recently created to support greater efficiencies in both the road maintenance space, but also in the coordination between maintenance, operations, construction and recovery works to provide seamless information to their client Auckland Transport and the community – ideal for someone who enjoys problem-solving as much as Corinne does.
One of the areas her team is responsible for is carrying out inspections of the roads in West Auckland to identify, prioritise and plan the required maintenance and road renewal work programme.
“Our role is to identify problems before they become problems.”
She’s also involved in emergency response and was at the fore during the severe weather events that impacted the upper North Island earlier this year, with West Auckland, most notably Piha and Karekare, particularly hard hit.
There were around 100 roads closed in the days following the storm event and more than 250 slips. The initial priority was to reinstate access for residents and emergency services, all while keeping her team safe and well cared for during a period of high pressure.
It was months of long hours, collating information, using it to plan and coordinate works, reconnect key roads, and keep the business, client, other services and the community informed.
“I love the adrenaline. Everyone drops everything to help out. You have to make quick decisions and what you’re doing has a real impact on people.”
Having an impact on people is something that comes naturally to Corinne.
Outside work, and despite being a busy mother of three – the youngest 18 months old – she has worked with her children’s school in Auckland to make sure Pacific Island children – especially girls – understand the wide range of career options available to them. She’s coordinated visits from people working in a wide variety of industries, including one she is particularly passionate about – road maintenance.
“Gone are the days of seeing the roading sector as a male-dominated industry. I joined the industry almost a decade ago as the only female engineer in our team, and now there are seven of us in engineering and management roles within the team.
“The roading industry is a career for everyone, from all walks of life.”
>> Want to follow in Corinne’s footsteps? Ventia has job opportunities across New Zealand, and many other civil construction companies are also hiring. Take the next step in your EPIC career today.