Wanted: 32,000 people to fill jobs to help fuel Auckland’s rapid, $18 billion growth. Sapoa Rimoni is one of them.

If you see Sapoa Rimoni at the huge upgrade going on in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter, give her a wave - she is a rare sight in her hard hat and fluoro vest.

Rimoni, 27 and the mother of two boys, is a qualified engineer and the sort of person Auckland needs 32,000 more of by 2018.

Not just engineers and not necessarily women either - but 32,000 people to fill jobs in the booming construction and infrastructure sector to help Auckland's rapid growth remain rapid. The region is expected to spend over $18 billion in the next decade on key capital projects and needs 400,000 more dwellings over the next 25 years.

To help fill this huge gap - 32,000 is more than half the capacity of Eden Park - a 12-month campaign has been launched, including a #BuildAKL competition (http://www.buildakl.co.nz/competition; more details below), to help move the right people into not only the right jobs but jobs essential for growth in the burgeoning construction and infrastructure industry.

It is aiming to access an enormous pool of untapped talent - including the 23,000 16-24-year-old Aucklanders currently not in education, employment, or training. The money's good too; many starting salaries are in the $40,000-$60,000 range and there are genuine prospects for advancement.

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Rimoni knows all about advancement. A few short years ago, she was a mother of two young boys with a vaguely unsettling feeling life was passing her by. Deciding to enter the workforce, she trained in hospitality before she was bitten first by the carpentry bug and then by engineering.

"We had a small place in Mangere," she says, "and I wanted to renovate it as I didn't think it was quite right for our two boys. I have always been a hands-on kind of person; I thought I'd give it a go."

One thing led to another and, in a quest to know more, she entered a year-long carpentry course, funded by a scholarship, at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

"That included being in a team of 10 who built a three-bedroom, timber frame house," she says. "Being there to see it loaded onto a truck and taken to Raglan for someone to live in was a real buzz."

But she wasn't done yet. As much as she enjoyed learning to be a "chippie", her interest was piqued: "We put that house together but it was the engineering side that made sure it would stand for 50-100 years. That got me thinking...".

The next year, with more scholarship funding, she began her national diploma in Civil Engineering with more help from MIT and the Tertiary Education Commission. But she was still short of a year's funding when she did a presentation on her journey to an audience that included a senior member of the Hawkins construction group.

After an interview, she landed not only funding for her last year of qualification but also a full-time job at Hawkins - which is why she can be found at the enormous infrastructure upgrade taking place at GridAKL, the innovation precinct at the Wynyard Quarter, with improvements to the streets, stormwater and waste water facilities.

"Because I am quite new and in my first year, I am mainly looking after health and safety on the site," Rimoni says. "There's a lot of paperwork but also a lot of cross-checking involved to make sure what is being built is what is planned - basically, we bring it to life."

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Rimoni calls engineers "the unseen people who build the world" and says there has never been more need for them as Auckland and Christchurch go through their rapid expansion and re-build respectively.

"Architects seem to get most the credit for new buildings and infrastructure but, like I say, I think we bring it alive and we have to make sure it is of the quality required. It's a lot of responsibility and is very interesting."

Rimoni wants to become a project engineer and, in time, a project manager - the salary band for such a manager is about $90,000-$150,000. With real prospects for advancement, young people can genuinely eye such roles.

She can also see the skills shortages affecting Auckland's growth: "There's no question there is a lack of resources. When I call subbies [sub-contractors], they find it hard to get back to me as they have so much work on. We also have to outsource a lot of work overseas - so that just means local people are really missing out on a vast opportunity."

Youth unemployment is a massive problem globally and locally but Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Auckland Council's economic growth agency, is facilitating #BuildAKL to help plug the gap by putting employers in touch with potential talent.

Like Rimoni, these young people can be trailblazers, helping to leave behind old perceptions that the 'best' jobs are doctors, lawyers, accountants, media - and that the construction industry is a man's world.

"I was the only woman in my carpentry course," she says, "and there is no question the boys stereotyped me to begin with - asking if they could lift things for me or hammer in nails. But if you stick with it and show you are serious, then you gain some respect.

"There are more women coming into engineering these days but there are still great opportunities for women as carpenters, or other trades in the construction industry. It's a huge opportunity."

It's also why ATEED has teamed up with Got a Trade to support the Auckland Got a Trade speedmeet where jobseekers can meet employers on 26 October in south Auckland.

The ATEED Auckland Got a Trade Speedmeet will be held on Wednesday, October 26 at the MIT IT Pasifika Community Centre in south Auckland and is an opportunity for employers to interview jobseekers - jobseeker registration
here

Young Aucklanders aged 16-24 years can register to win 4 weeks' paid work experience on the #BuildAKL website through the "Be on the Team" competition which closes in early November. The 20 top finalists will receive training before a public vote to select the 10 winners who will get to try out jobs with leading employers. The campaign hopes to encourage more than 4000 young Aucklanders into the thriving construction and infrastructure industry. Check out #BuildAKL on facebook [@ontoitAKL].