On the frontline of traffic management

 Moala Ofa, a finalist for the 2023 CCNZ Emerging Leader Award, is a hard-working Delivery Manager whose motivational and safety-focused leadership style has been noticed by his colleagues and community. By George Forbes. 

 Moala started at Ventia five years ago as an Engineering Cadet, after initially coming here in 2015 from Tonga, to study civil construction. He says that remembering his upbringing keeps him motivated and grateful for everything he has.

Moala was born and raised on a small island off the coast of Kapa Islands and Longomapu in the Vava’u region, Tonga. On the weekends, along with his two older sisters, he helped his family at the fish market selling his dad’s recreational catches (caught from a home-made boat) while his mum sold handicrafts.

“Growing up as the only son in the family was hard; in Tonga the man is the provider and I think that’s why my dad pushed me to make sure that I can have a better future looking after my family.” 

Moala says he is very appreciative that, unlike most other parents in Tonga, his parents let him choose his own career path. After taking ‘Industrial Art/Design Technology’ as a subject at school, Moala initially decided to pursue a career in architecture – completing a Diploma in Architectural Technology at Tupou Tertiary Institute in Tonga. 

“When I came here to further my study, I changed to pursue a career in Construction Management. As an international private student, I am deeply grateful for the Government Development student loan scheme provided by the Government of Tonga and also the financial support from my families in Tonga – Malo ‘aupito e ‘ofa [thank you].”

Moving here and adjusting wasn’t an easy feat – English is his second language (which he says was limited back then) and he lived two hours away from the Unitec campus. 

 While still completing his studies in a Bachelor of Construction, Moala worked for one of Ventia’s subcontractors. While on a project, a project manager from Ventia noticed his strong work ethic and referred him to its HR department. 

After completing his studies, he was offered a role as a Maintenance Engineer on Ventia’s Auckland North- West urban maintenance contract. 

“I was lucky to work in a great team who accepted me, and I had a really supportive manager… they really helped and mentored me through that time. 

“I started on the planning team, but when I got time, I would go out to site to see how they did things on the ground, which helped me understand and gain more practical experience. 

“Later on I moved to the delivery team and worked with the operational crew delivering the work within the contract.” 

It was here that his skills and passion for safety and leadership were noticed, leading to his appointment as Delivery Manager. 

Moala, known as “Mo” by the incident response team he leads, is currently the driving force keeping traffic on one of the country’s key transport links safe and flowing. On the Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington, Mo manages the team that responds to accidents and breakdowns. His team is rostered over two shifts to provide incident response assistance every minute of every day of the year. 

This involves liaising with emergency services and even taking motorists back to their base and warming them up with a hot cup of coffee on occasion. 

Mo recalls one of the more unusual incidents involved a Holden VF Commodore police car that got stuck in a truck arrester bed while monitoring traffic on the motorway’s opening day. The officer was rescued and she returned later with a chocolate cake to say thank you. 

“Another time a motorcyclist broke down in the rain and he was soaked. One of my team brought him and his motorbike back to our base and made him a hot coffee – the guy came back later just to say how much he appreciated how we looked after him.” 

While it’s just part of the role, Mo says knowing people appreciate what you’re doing for them is one of the best parts of his job. 

“Just seeing the thankful relief from people we’ve helped, it’s a good feeling.” 

His team is also responsible for replacing damaged road safety barriers and in the motorways’ first year of operation, they have replaced 1.2 km of safety barrier. 

And, if it’s a major incident it’s “all hands on deck.” 

This was the case last year when a collision resulted in a fuel tanker leaking fuel onto the highway. Mo and his team were quick to respond, closing the highway and supporting emergency services with the clean-up. 

There have been no fatalities or serious injuries in the entire first year of Transmission Gully’s operation, despite the fact more than 8.4 million vehicles have driven the length of the 27 km highway over that period. 

“We haven’t experienced a serious crash and I hope it stays that way,” says Mo. 

Over the past year they have been called out more than 2000 times to assist drivers – most of the incidents involving motorists who had broken down or run out of fuel. 

I’m really passionate about this industry and getting this role was a big step of my career going from an engineer to be a leader and manage a team. 

Over the next 10 years Mo says he hopes to continue his work on the ground leading construction work and hopes to become a construction or operations manager. 

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