When Josh Allen and Craig McNeilly left school, they had no idea they would end up travelling all over New Zealand and the Pacific building and maintaining airport runways that serve as the lifeblood of business, tourism and much needed supplies for local communities.

The two civil construction workers have followed different career paths and are employed by different companies but they are united in their passion for building high profile airport infrastructure that stands the test of time.

The globetrotting contract engineer – Josh’s story

At just 25, Josh’s work has already taken him to places as far-flung as Niue and the Chatham Islands.

“I love the adventure of travel. I like to visit new places, meet different people and experience different cultures, and there’s always something unique about the projects I work on.”

After finishing Year 13 at school in Hamilton and starting a degree in Health Science at the University of Otago, Josh realised university wasn’t for him and decided to try his hand at labouring with integrated services company Downer in Dunedin. His manager saw Josh’s potential and suggested he try a four-year Civil Engineering Cadetship. From there he rotated around different parts of Downer’s operations in six-month blocks to get a feel for the different types of work within the company.

Josh says it was the perfect opportunity to earn while he learned, and by the end of the cadetship he had a Diploma in Engineering under his belt paid for by Downer, zero student loan debt and four years of practical on-the-job experience.

The experience also opened the door to work on critical infrastructure like airport runways, sometimes in particularly remote and interesting locations.

“Work is definitely a lot more fun when you love what you do.

“I take a lot of pride in keeping the remote communities we visit connected. Without critical infrastructure like airports their lives would be very different.”

Josh’s favourite project so far has been lengthening and strengthening Chatham Islands Airport’s runway, for which Downer was awarded the NZ Airports Association Small Airport Infrastructure Project of the Year in 2023. The project has allowed bigger aircraft to land on the islands, bringing in more passengers and freight.

“To deliver a quality job that will last for years to come without the need for maintenance, is something we can be proud of.”

Josh values the supportive environment at Downer and the opportunity to work alongside some “very talented” people, including his mentor Dan Easterby, trans-Tasman Strategic Surfacing Lead.

“What I love most is the people I work with within my crew and the wider Downer teams.”

Apart from the travel required, Josh says the main challenge involved with working at remote sites is the degree of planning required for every imaginable contingency and the precise scheduling of every minute of the project to reduce disruption to airport schedules.

With no time to order in a back-up machine or tool, Josh’s tight-knit pavement runways team must be totally self-sufficient and capable to deploy and take care of their mission within a small window of opportunity.

Once Josh has added the finishing touches to the Niue project he’s been working on, he’s off to the low-lying Pacific island of Tuvalu to shore up and resurface its airport’s runway. The work will play an important role in the nation’s longevity by helping to future-proof the airport against sea-level rise caused by global warming, Josh says.

He says there’s lots of exciting career opportunities in the civil construction industry and a massive range of roles available.

“You get to go to places you would have never been to sink your teeth into crucial projects that change people’s lives.

“I’ve learnt a lot since the start, and every day I’m learning something new within the industry, with new technology constantly coming in.”

The airport veteran – Craig McNeilly

Craig McNeilly

Craig McNeilly, a 40-year Fulton Hogan veteran, is currently working on a runway re-surfacing job at New Plymouth Airport. He got his start pushing a wheelbarrow for the company after finishing school in 1984 and says he has “never looked back”. Having recently been appointed Fulton Hogan’s National Airport & Paving Sector Lead, you might say he hit the ground running.

Over the past 10 years Craig has specialised in managing airport runway resurfacing projects in all quarters of New Zealand, bringing together Fulton Hogan teams with the perfect mix of skills to get the job done.

“Sometimes it’s a bit like the United Nations – the local branches form a bigger team.

“I have a good team around me and we all bounce ideas off each other. If one team member can’t make it one day, another team member steps up to cover them.”

Craig says opportunities to step up allow people to progress and take care of succession planning, and says he finds knowing he’s played a part in people’s career progression “very rewarding”.

He says he loves meeting teams from across the country, getting to know them and building up rapport, as well as the feeling of satisfaction when everyone goes home safe and the client is happy after a successful project.

“At New Plymouth Airport recently we had three young laboratory technicians undertaking quality assurance testing in a lab brought up from Wellington. I just think it’s magic seeing them learning the ropes and getting first-hand experience.”

Other people just want to get out there and drive machines he says, “I take my hat off to them”.

“The milling machine we use is worth almost a million dollars and it’s a big grunty, impressive machine. Fulton Hogan will put you through the training to make you the best possible operator and teach you all the on-the-job skills you require to be a success.”

As a perfect example of both the opportunities that exist and the potential for progression in the civil construction industry, Craig encourages anyone thinking of joining the industry to “give it a crack”.

“The world’s your oyster – you can make what you want of it.”

Want to start your career building and maintaining airport runways and civil infrastructure?

Good places to start include Downer’s Cadetship Program, Fulton Hogan’s careers section, Seek.co.nz, or the job sites of other civil construction companies that work on civil infrastructure at airports.