Girls with Hi-Vis: Campaign to get more girls into the infrastructure and roading industry

New Zealand’s infrastructure industry is booming but a shortfall of around 44,000 skilled workers in the next five years could have it come to a grinding halt.

Roads need replacing, leaky water pipes need upgrading, power lines need maintaining and faster broadband technology needs installing- and leaders in infrastructure training reckon girls are the ones to keep New Zealand moving.

Kaarin Gaukrodger, chief executive of infrastructure industry training (ITO) organisation Connexis, said the future of infrastructure could be female.

“Women make up 50 per cent of the population of New Zealand so if businesses are not making the most of this skill base they are missing out.”

This month Connexis is trying to attract women into the infrastructure industry through its annual Girls with Hi-Vis® (GWHV) campaign.

For the rest of June Girls With Hi-Vis will give female high school students nationwide the opportunity to visit an infrastructure company through their school, get hands-on experience and hear from inspirational women in the industry.

There are also daily activities such as moving a bucket of water with an excavator, climbing a power-line pole in a training yard, putting together a water meter, and virtual reality traffic management.

Gaukrodger said the programme, supported by the Ministry of Education, gave girls an insight into the civil, energy, telco and water industries.

She said the businesses involved saw genuine benefit in attracting females.

“Since having more women on board we have seen positive change in the industry.”

This included the development of safer ways to use heavy equipment to account for the differences in physicality between men and women.

“This has been of benefit for men and women because the new way of doing things has reduced fatigue and is often safer.”

The companies represented at Girls With Hi-Vis had a genuine interest in increasing the number of females hired, Gaukrodger said.

“They are doing it because they genuinely see the benefits of having more women working with them.

“It is not for the feel-good factor.”

More than 20 workplace open days will be held throughout the country during June from Auckland in the north to Twizel in the south.

Participating companies include HEB Construction, Meridian, Contact Energy, Genesis, and Downer with open days in Auckland, Waikato, the East Cape, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Information is available here or through high schools.

“START AT THE BOTTOM”

Standing on the side of a rural road in the summer heat stopping traffic with a stop/go sign and no toilet in sight might not sound like the most attractive job in the world.

But for Katareina Kaiwai it was the first step on her road to success.

The Ruatoria woman with a passion for roading and infrastructure gave up a three-year stint in the offices at Fulton Hogan to pursue a career with roads and the heavy machines that make them.

Now the former lollipop worker employs more than 20 people through her company Tairāwhiti Contractors and is passionate about getting more women into the male-dominated industry.

More than a quarter of the staff at Tairāwhiti Contractors are woman – and Kaiwai is keen to increase that number further.

Women bring unique skills and benefits to the industry, Kaiwai says, and she firmly believes they are not only just as capable as men but that they also offer a fresh perspective and higher efficiency.

“Women are great planners and are often thinking a few steps ahead which is of huge benefit and a great skill in this industry.

“Planning is part of what we do and the women I work with are often juggling family life so they are great at finding the best and most efficient way to get the job done.”

Kaiwai, mum to a 7-year-old daughter, started in infrastructure 12 years ago in the offices of Fulton Hogan.

“I learned about roading, culverts and traffic management in the office, the systems, the finances, everything, and then I decided I wanted to be out on the road.

“They said yes you can do it but you have to start at the bottom – on the lollipop – so I did it.”

Kaiwai worked her way up and completed her apprenticeship in Civil Infrastructure at the end of last year.

She juggled having a baby with study, work and getting qualified.

As one of the few female business owners in civil construction in the East Coast region, Kaiwai is a champion of women, her industry, and her region.

More women are joining the industry, Kaiwai says, with the number of females training at Connexis jumping from 3 per cent in 2010 to more than 10 per cent this year.

“I want to see even more women in the industry and we can do it by changing the mindset and making the work environment more attractive for women.”

Kaiwai has made her own business as inclusive as possible from period products in the gloveboxes of trucks to providing a safe workplace so a new worker, passionate about roading, could bring her baby into the office.

This month Kaiwai will encourage more young women into infrastructure through the nationwide Girls With Hi-Vis event.

She hopes the workshops and talks will inspire a new group of women through schools into roading and infrastructure.

“I used to just see a road but now I see all the many components of it,” she said.

“You can go anywhere.”

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