He had only been on the job for two months before Manawatu cadet truck driver Ryan Pickering was handed the keys to a brand new $220,000 concrete truck.
The Higgins Concrete employee will be the first in the company to drive the freshly minted vehicle, transporting concrete to roading projects, bridge building works and other construction sites across the region.
“As a young fella I always wanted to drive trucks … there are still a few nerves at times but I’m really looking forward to it,” he says.
The move into truck driving has been a dream transition for Ryan, who worked as a roofer before leaving his job for the birth of his youngest son – Riley – at the end of 2019.
When he decided to get back into work, the opportunity to pursue a new career proved too good to resist.
“I attended an open day for the new highway being built through the Manawatu Gorge and met Lynette from the Central Skills Hub. She put me in touch with Higgins Concrete and helped me transition from the casual traffic control work I had started doing into the job as a cadet driver.”
Ryan has been in the role since mid-January and says he is loving it. Much of his time has been spent learning the ins and outs of concrete mixing, pouring, and driving – initially as a passenger in a concrete truck visiting projects and assisting with pours.
These have included a job pouring concrete as part of a piling job for a bridge at Mangaweka and assisting with pouring the post-tensioned floor slab for the new $50 million Countdown Lower North Island distribution centre near Palmerston North Airport.
“I enjoy it and every day is different. Seeing the tight spaces the big trucks have to get into is amazing. When I started I didn’t know anything about concrete but the team is just awesome here. They know I’m the new guy and they have been great at sharing knowledge and being patient.”
The new 8-tonne Hino FG truck Ryan will drive from now on can carry three cubic metres of concrete. It is the first concrete truck in the Higgins Concrete fleet that can be driven on a Class 2 driver’s licence, and it has been purchased specifically as part of a new driver training programme introduced by the company.
Dubbed ‘the blue truck’, in tribute to its Mentemia paint job, it will also play a valuable role in raising awareness of men’s mental health across the region.
Mentemia is a mental well-being programme co-founded by former All Black Sir John Kirwan, and Higgins Concrete has formed a partnership with the organisation to help increase awareness in the construction industry.
Ryan will spend six months in the truck before beginning his Class 4 driver’s licence training and moving onto one of Higgins Concrete’s larger 10-tonne trucks.
“I’m looking forward to moving up into the bigger trucks and keeping on learning. I’ll hopefully have Aaron’s job within five years,” he jokes, in reference to Higgin’s Concrete Central Region manager Aaron Currie, who works from the same depot as him.
Higgins Concrete general manager Mike Botherway says Ryan has been a great addition to the Higgins Concrete team, and the company intends to work closely with the Central Skills Hub and local schools to continue raising awareness of the benefits of a career in the construction and infrastructure industry.
“We’ve really decided to make a reinvestment in young people. The concrete industry is reasonably buoyant at the moment and we’re working on ground up initiatives to get younger people involved.”
The opportunity to gain training on the job, be paid while you learn, and enjoy a varied workday are big benefits of a job in the industry, says Mike.
“Some people really enjoy the technical nature of concrete and the many different ways it needs to be prepared, stored and transported depending on its end use.”
Central Skills Hub Operations manager Lynette Bailey says Ryan’s story is a great example of how skills hubs around the nation can help job seekers into work.
Dozens of other job seekers have been helped into roles in the Manawatu since the Central Skills Hub opened its doors in July 2020. The hub was created with support from the Provincial Growth Fund, which is administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.
Many of the those the hub has helped are now supporting major projects in the region, such as the Manawatu Gorge replacement highway and a significant upgrade to the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea (see Richard Silcock’s feature on page 24). They will also support other big projects due to begin in Manawatu in the future, including the Palmerston North ring road, Mercury’s Turitea wind farm on the Tararua Range and the KiwiRail regional rail and freight hub in Palmerston North.
“In a short amount of time we’ve gained real traction and formed some great connections with industry, as well as with local schools and Government agencies,” says Lynette Bailey.
“We are now running regular site visits and taster days for career seekers and we’ve been working hard to collaborate with and join the dots between different sectors of the industry.”
The Central Skills Hub is one of several across New Zealand. Others include the Tai Tokerau Skills Centre Plus in Northland, Workforce Central Dunedin and the Manukau, CBD and Northern job and skills hubs in Auckland.