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Country focus: New Zealand

We take a look at the opportunities for young engineers in New Zealand: what skills are in demand and what kinds engineering projects are planned or currently under way.

Country snapshot

New Zealand has a population of around 4.5 million, and is most heavily populated in the northern half of its North Island. In the 1970s, manufacturing, construction, and utilities comprised the major industries, but a number of market reforms over recent decades changed the economy and manufacturing declined. Statistics from the New Zealand Official Yearbook 2012 show that finance, insurance and business services (which includes professional, rental, scientific, and technical businesses) have had the largest growth since the 1970s.

In recent years, New Zealand’s economy has had more than a global recession to deal with, namely a major drought and more than one earthquake. According to the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) Consensus Forecast though (released in March 2014), the country’s economy will grow strongly over the next two years, with economic growth increasing from 2.9 per cent this year to 3.6 per cent the following year.

What’s going on there?

One of the most complex civil engineering projects is still ongoing in the South Island’s largest city of Christchurch and the Canterbury region following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

The 2011 earthquake destroyed a large part of the main business district in Christchurch. The Canterbury rebuild is one of the factors driving economic growth and the construction sector in New Zealand in general is experiencing massive growth.

NZIER’s most recent Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion reports that firms are the most confident they have been in 20 years and it says that “optimism and activity” is translating into “hiring and investment” which spells good news not just for the current wave of building and infrastructure projects but those ongoing and planned for the next few years.

As well as rebuilding, there are major improvements to roads, with the country’s roads of national significance (RoNS) programme designed to enable further economic growth. The seven current RoNS projects are centred around the country’s five biggest population centres and include the Waikato Expressway, described as a key strategic corridor for the Waikato region. It is taking ten years to build and is due for completion in 2019.

Alongside the RoNS there is also a motorway upgrade project to Auckland Airport. The airport itself is the focus of a 30-year infrastructure investment programme that aims to boost regional GDP by NZ$2 billion and create more than 27,000 full-time jobs. It aims to secure its position as hub airport serving Australasia and the Pacific Rim and it has been identified by Airbus as one of 80 global aviation megacities by 2030.

Meanwhile when it comes to rail, Auckland’s $500 million project to electrify the rail network heralds a new era in public transport and will see 57 electric trains running on lines by the end of 2015. KiwiRail has deployed state-of-the-art technology across the network and claims a world-first in its automated signalling equipment.

Also ongoing for the next few years will be the Wellington Metro Upgrade Project. Wind power capacity continues to build with the country recognised as having one of the best wind resources courtesy of its location: lying across the prevailing westerly winds in an area referred to by sailors as the Roaring Forties. In 2013, wind farms generated five per cent of the electricity consumed by New Zealanders, with a target of 20 per cent by 2030. It currently has 17 wind farms with more planned.

What skills are in demand and where?

According to the global recruitment firm Hays, hotspots for engineering skills are Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. Jason Walker, managing director of Hays in New Zealand, says structural design engineers with two or more years’ experience are required for new build and upgrade and strengthening work as well as a backlog of project work.

He adds that mechanical and electrical design for building services continues to be a key focus of recruitment and also needed are civil design engineers with land development and infrastructure project experience and those who can work on highway and water-related projects.

Geotechnical engineers with experience are in high demand for projects across both the North and South Islands and seismic re-strengthening work is fuelling the demand for these skills. Engineering skills across a range of disciplines are listed on the Government’s website under lists of essential skills in the short, medium and long-term.

Walker says that for young or recent graduate engineers from the UK, the main area of interest would be civil engineering for land development, three waters (water, wastewater and stormwater) design and transportation design and highway planning.

“The structural engineers will struggle at graduate-level based on New Zealand design codes for seismic engineering that is associated with building design work on structures. The engineering practices really prefer engineers from seismic regions when coming to New Zealand from overseas at graduate to mature graduate level,” he explains. “The non-NZ experience is fine for intermediate to senior level engineers as they have the wider project deliver-and-design experience and should pick up the seismic codes quicker than recent graduate qualified engineers.”

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