At 24, David Kingham wants to ensure he keeps getting a few curved balls thrown his way in what has already proved a winning career trajectory at Fulton Hogan. VICKI JAYNE spoke to David for Contractor.
HE’S JUST EARNED a top award for training development but David Kingham is not about to get complacent about his career progress.
The graduate engineer – and recipient of this year’s Z Training Development Award – is happily chasing every new challenge on offer as well as sharing his enthusiasm for the work with the next generation of budding contractors.
Based in the Bay of Plenty where he works as a project engineer for Fulton Hogan, David is also engaged in a special project with 11-year-olds at Otumoetai Intermediate – helping them design a sustainable way of watering gardens.
“I’ve got a class of about 34 that I go see for a couple of hours every week or so to help them design a sustainable way of watering gardens. The system involves collecting rainwater off the roof to run a pump and feed a sprinkler system.
“It’s a project for the annual [Transpower] Neighbourhood Engineers Awards. It’s been pretty hilarious getting them to figure it all out but we’re now working on the final models.
“So we’re teaching them about scale models, consulting stakeholders, presenting to the board, pricing things up, making concepts, going to research. It’s really cool.”
He is also busy turning older students on to a career in engineering.
“I did a talk at the recent Mount Maunganui College careers evening – it’s about getting kids excited as to what they could do in their work lives. I wish I’d had more of that when I was at school. I was lucky enough to have been shown around some cool projects in my sixth and seventh form so I had some idea of what contracting is about, but I didn’t really know much about engineering before I went to uni.
“I guess this is about getting kids onto it at an earlier stage so you can tell them to hang onto subjects like maths and physics to give them some choices. So I advocate for both an engineering degree and the diploma – it’s equally good to start them off.”
“After my first year, I got a job with Fulton Hogan on the Te Rapa Alliance – a major highway project in Hamilton. I worked on that doing soil testing and survey work and from that, they recommended I apply for a scholarship.”
It proved a mutually beneficial relationship.
“They contributed to my study fees and gave me summer work which I needed to tick the experience box. So I had two summers on the Te Rapa project and then on the Eastern Link here in the Bay of Plenty.
“It’s been a real win-win – they provided me with mentors and support and when I finished university, I could pick where I wanted to work which was cool. I chose the Mount because I’d already had a summer here, it’s pretty close to home and there’s good surf on the doorstep.”
At 24, David’s career trajectory at Fulton Hogan has already given him a broad hands-on experience of civil construction projects – from roading to quarrying and construction. Now he’s doing what he loves best: general project management – seeing a task right through from initial planning to final completion.
“That’s what I’ve been loving about this year – being involved from the start, going through the planning, getting it kicked off and, at the end, you can look at something physical.
“And the keeping outdoors bit – I’m not sure I could be locked up in an office all day. With the project I’m running now at Mobil’s terminal [at the Port of Tauranga], I’ve got a little site office which is great. Being on site means I can sort stuff as it happens.”
For him, problem solving is part of the job’s attraction.
“I’ve always had an interest in the maths and physics side of civil engineering – and getting my hands stuck in with construction work and the problem solving it involves. I guess that side of it led me into contracting rather than consulting.
“So many people at uni were training more for the design side whereas I went down the contracting route to be at the front end of it – working with people, getting things built and the hands-on problem solving that goes with site work.”
Well laid plans don’t always work out if weather, or in his current project at the Mobil port terminal, shipping arrivals, interrupt the contract progress. The arrival of a fuel ship means that all “hot” work (anything involving power tools or machinery) has to be put on hold, David explains.
“So it’s a matter of having a list of ‘cold’ work or wet day jobs – keeping people busy and maintaining morale. It’s about how you adapt to changed circumstances with the goal to minimise the amount of waiting the crew does. The more efficiently I do my job, the better they can do theirs.”
Safety is front and foremost in every project, says David.
“It’s very much part of the Fulton Hogan culture. Our mantra is zero harm – so the first thing we do is tick the safety box side of things. First you focus on keeping everyone safe and everything else follows on from that.”
When originally nominated for the 2015 Z Energy Training Development Award, David thought he still was a “bit too green” and should wait a few years.
“But the process of applying prompts you to look back and realise that you have achieved a thing or two. I was really stoked to be in the top three finalists – then taking it out was just great.”
However, he has no intention of resting on his laurels. Right now, the focus is on sorting his current project.
“It’s at least a year’s worth and there are a few challenges in there – working in the petrochemical environment is one of those. So it’s a matter of adjusting to that, ensuring we keep everyone safe, keep the client happy and keep the whole thing running smoothly.
“I want to make sure I keep getting a few curved balls while I’m still young. I certainly want to keep being challenged. I don’t want to get complacent.”