Celebrating women in infrastructure

Francesca Emms News, Ultimit / Women in Infrastructure

Kaarin Gaukrodger, director of Connexis | Te Pūkenga, New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, says ongoing initiatives that promote infrastructure jobs to young women are essential if the country is to address the chronic skills shortages within the sector, an ageing workforce, and the ongoing innovation required to meet future needs.

Following a recent event to celebrate the achievements of the first Ultimit all-female line mechanic team to compete at Annual Connection in 2022, Gaukrodger said making women much more aware of the career opportunities open to them in infrastructure industries such as civil, energy, telecommunications, and water remained a key focus for Connexis through its Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure brand, as well as events such as Girls with Hi-Vis®.

Celebrating the success of the first Ultimit all-female line mechanic team at a recent event in Wellington, from left, Omexom line mechanic Mereilisoni “Mere” Qeisene, Unison trainee line mechanic Juliet Fordyce, Unison line mechanic Natasha Goodall, Connexis director Kaarin Gaukrodger, Ultimit line mechanic team manager Laisa Pickering from MITA Consulting, and Omexom line mechanic Azra Wenzlick.

Ultimit, established in 2011, promotes opportunities for a more diverse workforce to help ensure a continuous supply of skilled infrastructure workers in New Zealand.

It also appoints Ultimit ambassadors from among women already working in infrastructure to showcase what is possible and support other women into the industry.

Ultimit is currently seeking applications for a new intake of ambassadors for the 2023/24 year. Ultimit ambassadors sign up for one year to share their stories with others around the country to encourage and mentor other women toward successful infrastructure careers.

“Infrastructure careers are not even on the radar for many young women making career decisions,” Gaukrodger said. “Our Ultimit ambassadors play an important role in raising the profile of these careers, and helping young women realise they offer interesting and varied opportunities.”

Previous Ultimit ambassadors have found it extremely satisfying to share their experiences with the aim of helping other women find their place in infrastructure industries, Gaukrodger says.

Entering the first Ultimit all-female team to compete at Annual Connection was another important step to demonstrating the nature of infrastructure work to other women, and just how effective women can be at it, she said.

Ultimit: The first all-female line mechanic crew lines up to compete at Annual Connection 2022. From left, Juliet Fordyce, Natasha Goodall, Emily Flynn, Serah Russell and Azra Wenzlick

Annual Connection attracts line mechanic crews and cable jointers from around the country each year to compete in team and individual competitions that showcase their skills.

“Reflecting on the event, each of the women in this team talked about the weight they felt on their shoulders to be successful at Annual Connection. Being the first all-female team, they felt they were representing all the other women in the industry and their success would demonstrate that they are equals and can do it,” Gaukrodger said.

“One of the events they were most proud of was the pole installation. The very first event which required them to dig a large hole by shovel and raise a post, they were the first crew to get their pole up. They showed that even in a strength challenge their skills, technique and team work could compete against the best of them.”

The Ultimit crew are the first to get their pole up at Annual Connection 2022

The Ultimit team finished second in the line mechanic competition at Annual Connection and were recognised for their achievements as the first all-female team at an event in Wellington, attended by Connexis and members of the Ultimit line mechanic team including manager Laisa Pickering who was one of the first Ultimit ambassadors back in 2011. Also in attendance were representatives from Unison and Omexom, as well as guest speaker, Stuff sports reporter and host of The Podium podcast Zoe George, who shared her own experiences working in a male-dominated industry.

Manatū Wāhine (Ministry for Women) Director Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Anna Chalmers also attended the celebration event.

“Nothing sends a more powerful message about the importance and effectiveness of women in these skilled roles, than actually seeing women be skillful and successful in those roles,” Chalmers says.

“The infrastructure sector is one that is still very male-dominated, but there is no reason why that shouldn’t change. It must change if we are to address some of the skills shortages impacting the sector.

“Events like Annual Connection and recognising the achievements of the all-female team, are important in opening minds to the possibilities of women in infrastructure, not just to employers but to women,” she says.

Warren Hedley, Kaarin Gaukrodger, Anna Chalmers, and Laisa Pickering

Girls with Hi-Vis® (GWHV), an annual Connexis initiative to promote the industry to female high school students, is also due to kick off on 1 June. It involves close to 30 companies hosting more than 40 events around the country where the students can try key infrastructure skills and engage with other women working in the industry. More than 70 schools, with a total of about 750 students are expected to participate this year.

“Girls with Hi-Vis® gets bigger every year,” Gaukrodger says. “That represents an impressive mobilisation within our industry to engage with women.

“Events like Girls with Hi-Vis®, and Annual Connection as well as initiatives like the Ultimit Ambassador programme are all making in-roads in addressing the gender imbalance and the skills shortages in infrastructure businesses.

“But the work is ongoing. At Connexis, our focus is on training a robust, highly skilled pipeline of workers for our employers in the civil, energy, telecommunications and water sectors. That must involve making the opportunities in those industries more visible to women, whether they are leaving school or looking for new career pathways.

“Ultimit was created more than a decade ago because when asked, back then, why they didn’t have more women in their line mechanic crews, most supervisors answered that they weren’t the right fit for the job.

“So Ultimit was set up to work with employers to recruit and support two cohorts of females through their Line Mechanic apprenticeship. We followed their journey for a couple of years to understand the challenges, and how that was for the women and the crews they worked in. When we checked back in with the supervisors, we found they loved having women in the crews. They tended to follow direction well, have good attention to detail, and excellent communication skills,” Gaukrodger says.

GWHV was the next step in the journey as supervisors looked to bring more women into the trade, they realised they needed to make the trade known to women, she says. “GWHV aims to do just that, starting at schools.”

Girls with Hi-Vis® is a Connexis initiative held every June.

Find out more about our Ultimit – Women in Infrastructure Ambassadors here.

And if you’re iterested in becoming an Ambassador please talk to your CSAM.