It's a familiar tale: student - bright, personable, talented - leaves school without really knowing what he is talented in and with no real idea what he wants to do with his life.

Years later, that still applies. After efforts to find something he likes doing for a living, the student is a young adult but is still searching for an answer, or even a direction.

Sam Quilter, now 23, is hoping his shortlisting on the #BuildAKL team will sort that out.

Sam is one of 20 young people selected to take part in training for qualifications in the country's burgeoning construction and infrastructure sector. The top 10 will then have a four-week rotation of summer work experience with a view to securing a job.


It's an effort designed to marry two contradictory but potentially beneficial truths:
1. Auckland is growing fast and needs 32,000 more skilled people to work in the industry by 2018.
2. 23,000 16-24 year old Aucklanders are not in education, employment or training - part of the global problem of youth unemployment.

It should be a marriage made, if not in heaven, then in happy opportunity. Auckland is expected to spend over $18 billion in the next decade on key capital projects and needs 400,000 more dwellings alone over the next 25 years. The construction and infrastructure sector is booming but urgently needs more people to fuel this explosive growth.

That's where people like Sam come in. His story is typical of many: "I guess you could say school was an exercise in futility for me. I don't think it was the school's fault, if I am honest. I was a teenager and very much influenced by external distractions. I left with no real direction and just sort of got out in the world to find something because...that's what people do."

What he found was music. A couple of years earlier, he had started playing bass guitar. He took a six-month course which he enjoyed and decided to study music at Victoria University full-time.

"In the end, though, music was probably an implausible solution for me at best," he says. "When it came down to the fundamentals, I wasn't really a musician. All that was waiting for me at the end was to become a sound engineer, or a variation on that.

"After two and a half years, the lethargy and lack of interest got the better of me."

He dropped out and for the last eight months has been working at a Mitre 10 store. He lives at home with his father and brother in Auckland, is getting a passport so he can sit his learner's licence and buy a scooter he has saved for - lack of a driver's licence sometimes an obstacle to employment.

Among jobs he has been enjoying in the meantime has been teaching autistic kids and setting up computer interfaces - where he enjoyed being a problem-solver.


But there was still no sign of a long-term calling until he heard about #BuildAKL.

Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Auckland Council's economic growth agency, is facilitating #BuildAKL - seeking to help plug the gap by putting employers in touch with young people.

They can not only take part in the expansion and improvement of Auckland but can also be trailblazers - helping to leave behind old perceptions the 'best' jobs are hardy annuals like doctors, lawyers, accountants, media and the like.

#BuildAKL is a social media campaign launched in September at JobFest, New Zealand's largest youth employment event. Young jobseekers registered for the #BuildAKL competition - with 20 top candidates selected to take part in training for qualifications and the top 10 then moving closer to securing a job.

Using social media to spread the word, the campaign aims to encourage more than 4000 young Aucklanders into the thriving construction and infrastructure industry overall.
One of the firms supporting #BuildAKL is Downer whose Project Lead, Northern, Sean O'Neill, knows first-hand the difficulties of attracting young people to those industries.

"A lot of companies just cannot recruit enough people," he says, "so doing something different, like #BuildAKL, really struck a chord - especially as it is targeted at the younger generations."

O'Neill says the 'old way' of attracting apprentices into the industry (fathers bringing sons and daughters into work to show them what they do, lighting the flame of interest) has largely died out as health & safety procedures tend to restrict such opportunities.

The top 10 #BuildAKL team will, says O'Neill, be rotated round various tasks within Downer's business, including road renewals and maintenance on Waiheke Island: "It's one thing to build infrastructure; it's quite another to maintain it."

Sam is hugely looking forward to such tasks if he makes the top 10. His work at Mitre 10 has helped build his confidence. With no previous handyman skills, he has learned to make various tools, as well as pull-up bars, to help him train for rock climbing, a strong leisure interest - and says he is ready to learn and grow skills in the construction and infrastructure world.

"I think it would be great," he says, "to end up driving past a building and be able to say, 'Oh yeah, I helped put that up'. That would be awesome."

To see the #BuildAKL finalists: