Waka Kotahi is looking to expand the number of workers on the Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū-Tararua highway project as the construction progresses.
Project manager Lonnie Dalzell said they were focusing their search on anyone local, with a view to having around 60 per cent of their workforce being from the area.
He said they were not quite at the target.
"But that's because in the earlier phases you have to bring specialists in to get the project up and running."
He said over the next couple of seasons when work starts on the big earthworks programmes, the focus was to get local employment up and running.
Waka Kotahi was supported by a number of agencies, including the Ministry of Social Development and Civil Contractors New Zealand, using their resources to find local people to employ.
Dalzell said it was a recognition of the need to focus locally due to Covid restrictions - while they had brought people in from other areas in the past, they couldn't do that now.
There were plenty of opportunities and the jobs were not limited to digger operators.
"We have ecologists, we have traffic management. The great thing about the construction industry is that it caters for almost any type of person."
He said they were looking for a range of new hires, from school leavers interested in apprenticeships to a wide variety of skill levels and experience - even those who were looking for a change of career.
There were various training courses, including a six-week infrastructure skills course run through the driver training centre at Manfeild.
Dalzell said the reason for the focus on employing locally was to build the capability of the region.
"One of the things the Manawatū-Tararua highway project is, it was one of the first to incorporate broader outcomes, so that looks at targets and training and employing locally.
"One of the things it does is minimise the impact on the housing market, which is already under pressure, and it obviously keeps the money and the skillset in the region as well.
"That's a big driver for us."
He said he knew of at least half a dozen people on the project who had moved back to the region to live in Dannevirke.
"It's not only employing locally, but it's actually bringing people back because there are opportunities for them to grow or use their skillsets back in their home."
The project to build a new road to replace the now-defunct route through the Manawatū Gorge is still projected to be completed around December 2024.
Lockdown hadn't appeared to affect the timetable - Dalzell said they were actually ahead of schedule, "which is brilliant really".
Work had to stop during the level 4 lockdown.
A full assessment hadn't been done on how that had impacted the work, but Dalzell said it was limited to just under two weeks.
"We had our work crews back up and running on the first day of level 3."
He said they had stringent safety measures including masks and distancing to ensure all workers were meeting the Government health order.
While they had lost a bit of time, because it was winter it wasn't a high-production time anyway, and was still productive with the limited crew they had.
"The team up there havee done an amazing job in that cold weather, with the material that we've got to keep the project moving.
"Because we all know how important that link is."
For more information on the jobs available: Te Ahu a Turanga Jobs