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On the right track

New Zealand has a skills shortage as it embarks on a major infrastructure programme. Olivia Gagan reports on the opportunities for British civil engineers

As New Zealand seeks to retain its economic stability while other developed countries struggle to repay debt, infrastructure investment has been named as a top priority for the New Zealand government.

Consequently, huge amounts of construction work can currently be found around New Zealand’s rail network. Rail operator KiwiRail is currently in the middle of a network upgrade to improve the frequency and reliability of commuter services.

It is also preparing for electrification in time for delivery of Auckland’s new electric trains in 2013. These new Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) are funded by a £240M government loan, with KiwiRail the procuring authority, and contracts to be awarded to an EMU supplier in early 2011.

New infrastructure required to electrify the network, which runs from Papakura, south of Auckland, to Swanson in the north west, is another £240M project. The major work to be done involves traction - building the overhead line electrification - signalling and investigating bridge and tunnel clearances for the new trains.

As such productivity suggests, New Zealand’s construction industry appears to have dealt well with the global financial crisis.

Alongside major rail upgrades, engineering teams are being assembled for major and smaller projects including wind energy, dams and highways. An upsurge of overseas work is also on the books of New Zealand civils firms with offices in Australia and South East Asia.

Moving to the other side of the world is a daunting prospect, but high demand for civil engineers means that salaries, entry requirements, and employee packages are definitely on your side. As with Australia, New Zealand ranks engineers highly on their list of in-demand occupations. Employee-sponsored work visas offer the security of moving to a new country with job stability already in place. Many companies offer relocation allowances.

“Resourcing and succession planning to prevent any talent gap is a management priority”

Doug Johnson, Taylor & Tonkin

As the economy picks up, this shortage has become apparent to New Zealand environmental and engineering consultant Tonkin & Taylor. “Resourcing and succession planning to prevent any talent gap is a management priority,” says Tonkin & Taylor managing director Doug Johnson.

About 20% of the firm’s engineers are from overseas, and the company is currently recruiting to increase this. HR manager Colm Whyte adds: “Overseas trained engineers not only have sought after technical capability but typically their varied experience gives them critical thinking and management skills.”

The recent Christchurch earthquake has become a major project for Tonkin & Taylor in its role as advisor to the government’s Earthquake Commission.

There are also numerous smaller projects taking place all over the mainland. Project locations are often beautiful and of community significance. An award winning smaller public infrastructure project
was Achilles Point in the waterfront suburb of St Heliers, in Auckland.

Such work may be in short supply in the northern hemisphere; but for those looking for a varied mix of civil engineering opportunities in a country known for its work-life balance, New Zealand may be just the ticket.

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