Keeping Stewart Island connected

Martin Svehla Energy, eNews, News

Isaac O’Grady front row, second from left

Isaac O’Grady knows all about the importance of teamwork. As an apprentice line mechanic and station operator on Stewart Island, Isaac works as part of a small PowerNet crew of three responsible for the maintenance and repair of the island’s electricity network.

Being part of such a small crew in a fairly isolated community means each member of the team has to be fairly adaptable in how they work together, Isaac says. That’s one reason Isaac took up the opportunity to complete an Outward Bound Professional course, thanks to a scholarship from Connexis.

“I thought the skills I’d get from Outward Bound would be really helpful in developing my abilities in things like communication, as well as working effectively in a team.”

One of the biggest lessons of completing Outward Bound, Isaac says, is understanding just how different people are. “It really opened my eyes to how everyone has their own, ideal way of working and communicating.”

“I think that’s one of the biggest overall messages from Outward Bound: everyone is different, and that’s a good thing. When it comes to putting together a team it means everyone brings something unique. Working well together is all about trying to make the most of those differences and bringing it all together in a way that works.”

One of the highlights of the course for Isaac was waka paddling because it became a very practical demonstration of the power of good teamwork. “When you’re not working in unison in the waka and you’re out of sync, you clash oars, and you really slow down. When you’re working together you really feel the difference; the speed of the waka means you actually start lifting out of the water. It’s amazing.”

Isaac’s biggest challenge through the course was letting go of working to a plan. “It took me a while to get used to not knowing what we’d be doing each day. You just turn up without a briefing and you could be off on a run, or out on the water.

“I tend to like working to a bit more of a structured plan, but you just have to give up on that and just run with it.”

Isaac is no stranger to having to change plans though. Having started his career working at Marsden Point oil refinery, near Whangārei where he grew up, Isaac was forced to re-think when the refinery was closed down.

Realising other oil and gas jobs were hard to come by in New Zealand he opted to re-train as a line mechanic. “It’s a really future-proofed industry to work in. There’s lots of work all around the country so you’re not geographically limited. You can find work in the middle of a big city or find work in a small rural community; whatever suits you.”

Isaac loves the unique nature of working in Stewart Island, and interacting with the close-knit local community who, he says, have been very welcoming in his almost two years on the job. The Stewart Island crew’s time is spent between maintaining and servicing the diesel-powered generators, and checking and monitoring the network, as well as responding to faults or outages.

“Southland as a whole gets some pretty wild weather at times, so that can be interesting. The whole job is quite a unique one which is one of the things that attracted me to it.”