Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Women digging civil careers

Stacey Walker says the work can be physically strenuous but there's a lot of variation and she's learning something new every day. Photo / Supplied
Stacey Walker says the work can be physically strenuous but there's a lot of variation and she's learning something new every day. Photo / Supplied

Stacey Walker is a rare breed - a woman who's happiest wearing her hi-vis vest.

The 22-year-old from Te Awamutu quit her "boring" job at a pharmacy two-and-a-half years ago to chase an infrastructure dream and she hasn't looked back.

"It's just completely different," the Fulton Hogan lab technician said.

"I wasn't happy and knew I needed something big that would make a big difference.

"It can get quite boring sitting in front of a computer, but now I'm working on sites or in the lab, it's really interesting."

There is a shortage of workers in the infrastructure industry, and women are being targeted to fill roles in electricity, water, civil infrastructure and telecommunications.

According to Civil Contractors New Zealand, an increase in construction activity will lead to an extra 32,000 construction and infrastructure jobs created from 2013-2018.

Women make up only 4 per cent of trainees at Connexis, New Zealand's biggest infrastructure training organisation.

Connexis chief executive Helmut Modlik says there is a shortage of skilled workers in infrastructure, and women are a "relatively untapped workforce".

"Traditionally men are employed in these roles, but women are just as suited for the jobs and also offer a different skill base, which introduces an added dimension to the workforce," he said.

As part of an initiative called Girls in Hi-Vis month, male staff are being encouraged to invite their sisters, daughters, friends, cousins and wives to work with them.

Ms Walker acknowledges she is a rarity on site, but has no qualms getting stuck in to some hard yakka.

"I'm getting to do so many different things. I'm getting out and watching and working on big projects from start to finish, learning things like how the roads are built.

"There's not many women doing it, but I'm pretty lucky that I've got four girls in the lab with me, which is pretty uncommon."

Traditionally men are employed in these roles, but women are just as suited for the jobs.
Helmut Modlik, Connexis chief executive

She said the physical nature of the work shouldn't be a barrier to equal gender representation.

"There's a bit of misconception that it's only for men I think, because there's a lot of manual loading, a lot of heavy lifting and the long hours can be hard if women have kids at home. But everyone's really supportive, being part of a team means you'll find ways to make things a bit easier."

Connexis head of marketing Kaarin Gaukrodger is keen to bust the miscon-ceptions about the role of women within infrastructure.

"Traditionally it has been quite a male-dominated industry. There have been some concerns in regards to the role of women within that and how that would work.

"It's quite practical but there's lots of heavy-lifting involved and strength requirements, and I suppose there's a lack of understanding how women fit in to that.

"Our research has highlighted that isn't actually correct, women actually add a lot of value to the teams they work in and what is perceived is incorrect."

She said initiatives like Girls in Hi-Vis allow them to identify future female infrastructure employees.

"It's about showing women the industry and how it works."

- NZ Herald

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