One of the beauties of civil construction is that you can land a job and rise through the ranks without having to rack up a huge student loan at university or polytechnic. But to climb to the very top, you sometimes need something more.
We spoke to four leaders in the industry about what they love about their work, what it takes to succeed, and why they have gone the extra mile to gain Civil Trades Certification.
Civil Trades Certification is a nationally accredited programme based on New Zealand Certificate in Infrastructure Works qualifications and apprenticeships. It provides industry recognition of skills, a great framework to develop, and a stepping stone to the next stage of a civil construction career.
“Working in this industry, you realise you are part of the backbone of New Zealand and building the gateways to New Zealand businesses,” says Michael Whatuira, a foreman working in Hamilton for infrastructure company Higgins.
“It’s also the variety of jobs every day that I enjoy. Accomplishing big scale jobs is always rewarding.”
Michael has worked for Higgins for 13 years, four of those in road maintenance, and his most recent project was on the Hamilton bypass section of the Waikato Expressway.
“I did Civil Trades three years ago – now I have my certification in Heavy Maintenance and Civil Construction. Out of the three people I started Civil Trades with, I was the only one who finished it. It was spoken about highly.”
He has risen through the ranks quickly and says that’s another selling point of the industry for those who are willing to put in the work to get there.
“I was a foreman at 25, but I had to earn the respect. It’s a hard road, but you can do it if you put your mind to it. I started at the bottom and worked to the top.”
Waiotahi Contractors foreman Luke Kahukiwa would agree. For the past few years he has been leading a team working on canal stop banks near Edgecumbe. The town was badly hit by flooding in 2017, resulting in severe damage to more than 250 homes, and the stop banks his team is building will help to prevent a repeat,
“Seeing the end product is great,” Luke says. “In my mind I could see what the stop banks would look like before we started and to see them now – I can’t really put it into words. It’s one of the reasons why I like it – protecting people’s houses. We’ve being doing this for a bit over two years, and we are nearly finished.”
Despite working for 14 years in the field, he lacked Civil Trades Certification, so decided to give it a shot in the name of advancing his career.
“I had to prove 2,000 hours. That’s of lot of time to prove you’ve been sitting in an excavator! There were two of us on the course – me and one other. Now I’ve got my Level 4 Civil Trades Certificate in Civil Construction, and also a Site Supervisor one. I’m just stoked. In the past, I could leave a job and have nothing to show for it. There was nothing on paper to show next employer what I’m made of.”
“My advice to people considering doing Civil Trades Certification is to know your stuff before you start. Don’t go into it if you’re guessing. And stay committed.”
Something of a trailblazer in the infrastructure sector, Pearl Jury was the first woman to complete Civil Trades Certification. After working her way through the ranks, she oversaw a number of major projects in the Central North Island for Gair Contracting and is now sharing her skills with the next generation as a civil operations manager following the acquisition of the company by new owners Goodman Contractors. She even has a daughter and nieces in the industry.
“There were a few women working in forestry in the bush when I started, but not many in civil construction,” Pearl says. “It’s really nice to see so many of the young ones coming into the industry. There are long days and short teas, but there’s no reason why girls can’t do it if they love the machines and noise. I was always a bit of a petrol or diesel head.”
After years in the industry, working on projects that range from the highway between Pakipaki and Flaxmere through to Napier to stop banks in Palmerston North, Pearl feels Civil Trades Certification was a big part of getting her to where she is in the industry today.
“Civil Trades is good for keeping people in the industry. The more certifications you have, the higher you can go. I put it off, but I’m glad I did it. It’s a lot of book work, but not too bad, and I got to compete in the regional excavator competition while I was doing it.”
As a director for Ditrac, an earthworks company in Auckland, Sandy Norman is well-positioned to comment on the industry after spending 15 years in it. Despite being a company director, he’s out in the field every day.
“There are three of us in the team. We do everything from asphalt and drainage to concrete slabs. A lot of our work is on small industrial sites around Auckland – repair works for malls, new developments, and that sort of thing,” Sandy says. “I’m on the tools every day. I like the variety. We’re not working on the same thing every day. I love being able to do a job and see the end results. It’s not a paperwork-based job – you can see the results and be proud.”
He completed his Civil Trades Certification five years ago and sees it as a great way to add to your basket of skills.
“I believe it’s a big thing to be able to prove that what you are saying and doing for the customer is industry standard. Civil Trades adds credibility to anyone’s business, and it also creates a point of difference when you have the qualifications and others don’t.”
“You never know everything, no matter how much experience you’ve got.”
Civil Trades is a trade certification owned and operated by Civil Contractors New Zealand and supported by Connexis. It combines recognised Infrastructure Works trade qualifications with certified hours of practical experience, and leads to registration as a Certified Civil Tradesperson.
Cover image: Certified Civil Tradesperson Sandy Norman of Ditrac on the job
Pearl Jury, NZ's first female certified civil tradesperson
Luke Kahukiwa of Waiotahi Contractors receives his Civil Trades certification
Mike Whatuira recieved his Civil Trades certification working for Higgins