If you’ve driven over a recently repaired section of highway in Manawatū-Whanganui, there’s a fair chance you have Steven Wilmshurst and Warren Wells to thank for it.
The dynamic duo form half of a specialised four-person road crew plying their trade for Higgins on the region’s 600 km of state highway.
Higgins is contracted by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to maintain the highways in Manawatū-Whanganui and Warren and Steven are out rain or shine along with other crews in the region, often travelling hours a day to do the repairs required to keep things running smoothly.
“We have a lot of pride in what we do,” says Steven. “You travel past a job days or weeks later and think to yourself ‘we did that’.”
One of Steven’s main jobs is driving and operating a Flocon truck – a versatile vehicle used for asphalting and chipsealing.
Nicknamed ‘band aid’, because “she fixes all the nicks and other injuries the road suffers”, the 12-tonne truck is one of only two in Higgins’ fleet nationally. It began operating just three months ago and its versatility and efficiency is one of the secret weapons that enables Steven and Warren’s team to do a job that might otherwise require a crew of up to 15 people.
“We do work hard, but the job is made enjoyable by the people you work with. We’ve earned each other’s respect and we are all treated like family. Each person brings a level of skill and intelligence to the group – the truck just makes jobs easier and quicker, and it can carry more.”
Before getting a job in road maintenance, Steven worked as a qualified builder and truss manufacturer. He had his Class 2 and Class 3 driver licenses and forklift endorsement before joining Higgins in 2018, and then worked in a variety of roles and machines before training to drive the Flocon.
“I enjoy the truck but even without the technology and equipment, if you just gave me a wheelbarrow and a shovel, I’d be quite happy,” he says.
Another of the team’s secret weapons is foreman Warren. Respected for his leadership, Warren was preparing to be interviewed for a possible promotion to a regional supervisor role when we spoke to him this week.
A former dairy farmer who joined the roading industry a decade ago after injuring his shoulder in a serious accident, Warren is the gel that keeps the team on task and solving whatever challenges the highway throws at them.
“I have a darn good crew and they make my job easy,” says Warren. “The job has its challenges but we go out of our way to solve them and we get through them together.”
He jokes that cows on the dairy farm were easier to manage than people most of the time but says he enjoys the comradery, variety and the daily trials road maintenance throws at him and his team.
“Mundane is not my strong point. I get bored easily, so a job like road maintenance where I’m doing something different every day is ideal.”
He says the past decade has seen more women joining the industry and there has also been an increased focus on health and safety.
The industry is crying out for new workers, whether they are school leavers or people changing career later in life. While he’s one of the first to encourage people into the industry, he says it does require a certain mindset.
“You have to stay off your phone, be willing to muck in and learn. It’s about problem solving as well – you’ve got a big hole in the ground and you have to find a way to fill it in a way that works and will last.”
Machine operators are sorely needed but people need to be willing to do the basics first.
“It’s fine to want to operate a loader or excavator, but you also need to know how to operate a shovel,” he laughs.
His own civil construction journey started with sealing and asphalting for new roads, before he moved into traffic management and eventually into road maintenance.
He says there’s plenty to learn in all areas of the industry and anybody who is willing to put in the effort, be a team player and work hard for those around them can go a long way quickly.
Considering a career in road maintenance? Explore our EPIC regional map and get in touch with the company that does road maintenance in your area to find our more about current work opportunities.