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Upskilling on Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme upgrade

15 June 2021

Fresh career prospects, training opportunities and a better work life balance are some of the upsides for Gisborne locals working on the Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme upgrade.

The scheme comprises 64km of stopbanks and is one of Council’s most valuable assets, protecting approximately 10,000 hectares of fertile floodplain land.

The existing stopbanks are being raised and widened to cater for a 100-year rain event – such as the storm that saw flooding in Canterbury last month – and provide protection from the effects of climate change.

Last year Council was awarded $7.5 million of funding support by Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit (previously known as the Provincial Development Unit) to accelerate the project delivery phase. Since then, local contractors Earthworks Solutions have employed seven new staff members to enable the accelerated work.

The team is quickly achieving project milestones and by the end of this month, will have completed 8 km of stopbank upgrades on the eastern side of the Waipaoa River near Matawhero.

A total of 14km has been successfully upgraded by Earthwork Solutions since construction first started in February 2019.

Grader operator Luke Paipa joined the Earthworks Solutions crew in October last year after previously working in forestry and fly-in-fly-out roles in Australia. He’s loving the lifestyle the new job offers back in his home town.

“This job has taken a lot of stress away from my family because I’m not working 14-15 hour days anymore. My wife and I have four boys at home so it’s good to not take work home with me, and now I get to spend the weekends with my family.”

Before working on the stopbanks Luke had never sat in a tractor before, let alone a state of the art grader like the one he currently operates.

“It’s been full on-the-job training and I’ve learnt a lot. Working on the grader is a good challenge, it’s the last step in the process of finishing the stopbanks and there’s a lot of responsibility to get it perfect,” he said.

“The graders work off a GPS system and the shaping is generated from 3D computer design. It’s not easy – there’s a lot to it and you learn by doing the work.”

Zach Destounis is another new recruit who has hit the ground running with on-the-job training. He used to drive tractors in the horticulture industry but says his latest role is a whole new ballgame.

“Working with diggers, graders and scoops is new to me but it’s all good. I was keen to start a new career path, learn new skills and the hours are good too,” he said.

“I really enjoy the variety of the work and that I’m not stuck on the same machine all day. It’s challenging at times but good to use your brain.”

The scale of the project and sheer volume of excavation involved could make it quite repetitive work but the team’s programme is carefully managed so they so get to switch it up.

“We swap the crew around to keep it interesting for them. They’re all taking turns using different machinery,” says Earthworks Solution project manager Ross McKeague.

“It means the guys get to upskill and we can build the crew’s overall capability. They’re doing a great job and have all been given permanent, full-time positions.”

The project has provided many flow-on benefits for related industries, from businesses engaged for maintenance and mechanical work, steel work, engineering, tyres, right down to the helicopter company laying grass seed – all the money is flowing back into the local economy.

The whole team is super proud of the bigger picture they’re contributing to.

“When you’re up top looking down and you imagine a flood big enough to hit the stopbanks, it’s pretty scary,” Luke says. “If that stopbank wasn’t there it would be a big worry.”