When Oscar James and Gabriel Ritchie stepped out onto the training lot at the new Civil Infrastructure Academy near Featherston in July, they were blown away by the chance to jump behind the controls of heavy machinery and learn the key skills required to enter the civil construction industry.

The two teens are among the first intake of 23 students taking part in the academy – a team effort from Civil Contractors New Zealand, UCOL Te Pūkenga, Fulton Hogan, Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of Education and the local Workforce Development Council to deliver the New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works (Level 2) qualification.

“The days are always exciting and there’s always something interesting going on,” says Oscar.

The 15-year-old Hutt Valley teen says it’s “cool” to know there is such a demand for civil construction work. After cutting his teeth on tools ranging from chainsaws to 3-tonne excavators in the first eight weeks of the programme, he’s now keen to pursue a future in earthworks, despite originally wanting to be a pilot.

With $2.7 billion earmarked to be spent over the next 10 years on infrastructure projects in the Hutt Valley region where Oscar lives, he is getting a head start on developing skills guaranteed to be in demand.

“It’s a lot better than school for people who are hands-on. I’m happy to get up an hour early to get the bus over the Remutakas to the Fulton Hogan quarry near Featherson where the course is based.

“I feel a sense of responsibility and trust from the teachers that I wouldn’t get inside school, I highly recommend it to anyone who is even curious about it. I told my friends they should have done it with me”, he says.

Gabriel says his experience has been similarly successful and he already has a job lined up as a field worker at the end of the year when he finishes school.

“Coming to the end of the school year I’m thinking what I’m going to do next and being able to do this course allows me to think: this is actually what I want to do with my life.”

The Masterton local is glad the careers advisor at his school pulled him in at the start of the year and asked him if he wanted to be in the academy intake.

“Ever since I was a little kid I always wanted to get involved with heavy machinery … going on site with all the machines is like going into a playground, but for adults.”

Eighteen-year-old Gabriel is looking forward to stepping into the adult world and putting the skills he has developed to good use kickstarting his career in civil infrastructure. He’s recommended the course to friends who enjoy doing physical work and prefer the idea of working outside in the fresh air rather than being cooped up in a classroom or office.

Oscar and Gabriel have been spending two days per week out of school learning on site at the academy and are looking forward to completing the 18-week programme in November with the prospect of a clear career path ahead of them.

Danny Reilly, Executive Dean Engineering & Applied Technologies at UCOL Te Pūkenga, says seeing the students get excited about the industry has been the highlight of the programme for him so far.

“These students will be able to hit the ground running, not needing to attend a polytech because they gained the necessary skills while at school.”

Having Fulton Hogan sharing its expertise as a partner in delivering the academy training has been a huge advantage because this ensures the training aligns with what employers expect in the workplace, he says.

“Together we can build industry training that will build an ongoing workforce.”

Danny says the programme intends to offer similar infrastructure training courses over the next three years and continue to partner with industry to make sure the training connects through to work opportunities and provides skills that ensure academy graduates are sought after by employers.

Similar civil infrastructure academies are running in some other regions and discussions are underway to establish local training academies elsewhere across the country, including in Manawatū-Whanganui.

Keen to join the next intake in Featherson?

The next intake of the Featherston-based Civil Infrastructure Academy will begin in November 2023, for adults, and February 2024, for secondary school students. Anyone wanting to grab the opportunity to build their own future in civil construction should speak with their school careers advisor or email EPIC for more information.