Strong connections more important than ever

benstevens News

Annual Connection, a celebration of the Electricity Supply Industry (ESI), returns in 2021 for its 20th year, celebrating the best of the best in tradespeople and showcasing product innovations. This iconic three-day event has come to be a highlight of the ESI calendar, bringing together workers, suppliers and local communities in an exciting and unique event.

This year the event will put a spotlight on workforce skills shortages, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today, and the work being done on the Kohi Whakaaro ESI Workforce Development Strategy to develop a coordinated strategy and industry approach for long-term sustainability. 

Annual Connection is an industry event managed by Connexis, the infrastructure industry training body, and industry. It comprises of line mechanic and cable jointer competitions, a supplier exhibition, engagement with local schools, and an awards ceremony to recognise the best and brightest workers in the industry.

New dates

Annual Connection was disappointingly cancelled last year due to Covid lockdown restrictions. This year’s event, originally planned for late September, has also had to be postponed and Connexis Director Kaarin Gaukrodger says she is grateful to industry for their flexibility in enabling the dates to be rescheduled.

Annual Connection will now go ahead on 2-4 November, at the original venue of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch.

“After months of upheaval it has never seemed more important to have our businesses, skilled workers, trainees and suppliers connect. The event gives them the opportunity to showcase the specialist skills and knowledge, often overlooked by the general public, that literally keep the lights on, our houses warm and laptops charged.

“These are essential workers and this is a great opportunity for them to be recognised and appreciated for the services they provide.”

Five-time host of Annual Connection Independent Line Services Chief Executive Matt Southorn says he and his team will be ready to welcome all attendees in November.

“Annual Connection is a great event that celebrates the work energy sector tradespeople do around the country, as well as offering the public a chance to see the exciting activities undertaken to keep New Zealand connected, day-to-day.”

Finding solutions to workforce shortages

Annual Connection is more than just about the ESI industry as it is today but aims to act as a gateway for the next generation of electricity workers.

This year there will be an opportunity to capture insights, learnings and recommendations from the Kohi Whakaaro ESI Workforce Development Strategy project. This project grew out of concerns about ongoing skills shortages in the industry, exacerbated by border closures post-Covid and new skills requirements due to climate change and the Government’s zero carbon goal. Kohi Whakaaro brings together industry and community partners to find integrated solutions to these problems now and into the future.

Kohi Whakaaro has been a partnership between Connexis, the Electricity Engineers’ Association, iwi, and representatives from the Generation, Distribution, and Transmission sectors of ESI. It examines issues including training and career pathways, diversity and public outreach.

Annual Connection 2021 will provide an opportunity for discussion around the current and future labour skills shortages in the ESI industry with stakeholders invited to a working breakfast on Wednesday 3 November where they can learn about and feed into the research report insights and recommendations from the Kohi Whakaaro project.

Annual Connection is also an opportunity for the industry to promote itself to a broader audience, which is one of the goals of the Kohi Whakaaro project. Local high schools are invited to the event, where students are introduced to the broad range of career opportunities the energy sector offers. Students can watch the competitions and see the skill and expertise involved in the job, and meet with ambassadors working in the field and employers. Industry careers experts are also onsite to answer questions and aid interested students in finding a pathway into the industry.

For more information on the Kohi Whakaaro breakfast presentation visit:

Skills on show

The showpiece of Annual Connection is the three days of competitions for Line Mechanics and Cable Jointers. Teams come from around the country to battle it out, showcase their skills, inspire each other, and share new ideas. Competitions test skills in first aid, pole installation, pole-top rescue, pit rescue, high and low voltage jointing, terminations and more.

The Lines Company is putting forward a combined team from its Te Kuiti and Taumarunui bases. Team Manager Tony Gannon says they are looking forward to competing at Annual Connection.

“For us it isn’t about winning, it’s about team building, seeing how other networks operate and meeting others in the industry.”

The industry’s talent and expertise are also celebrated at the Energy and Telecommunications Industry Excellence Awards Dinner, which is hosted by Mita Consulting Ltd, and held on the final night. Annual Connection’s overall competition winners are also announced during the evening event.

The Industry Excellence Awards are a chance to celebrate the sector’s best and brightest trainees, recognising and rewarding their hard work and commitment to developing their skills.

This year, there will winners across seven categories – Transmission Trainee of the Year, Telecommunications Trainee of the Year, Generation Trainee of the Year, Distribution Trainee of the Year, Contribution to Investing in Youth Training and Development, Advanced Trainee of the Year, and Overall Trainee of the Year.

Judging is under way by industry leaders and experts, who consider a variety of factors when making their decisions, including nominees’ attitudes toward training, commitment to career progression, whether they are team players and how they approach challenges.

Early comments from judges indicate the calibre of this year’s nominees is as high as ever, with an enthusiasm to pursue professional development even despite the challenges caused by Covid.

Kaarin says it is important we celebrate and recognise all trainees, who work towards tertiary qualifications while juggling work and family commitments. This event provides an opportunity to recognise the next generation who will be leading the future of New Zealand’s energy sector.

The Excellence Awards mean a lot to the nominees as well. Bernard Muzengeza, an Electrical Fitter for Wel Networks and winner of the Advanced Trainee of the Year and Overall Trainee of the Year in 2019, says picking up these awards was “awesome” and meant everything to him.

Having worked in the industry for nearly 20 years, both in his native Africa and in New Zealand since 2014, he said the awards not only capped off the hard work he had put in up to that point but were a steppingstone to even greater training and career highs. Bernard continued his on-job training up to Level 6 and is due to complete his Bachelor of Technology next month.

Supplier exhibition

Annual Connection is also an opportunity for the ESI industry to learn about the latest new products, with 50 stalls set to take part in the supplier exhibition.

As sustainability and the government’s carbon neutral goal become an increasing focus for the industry, the role of technology and innovation in finding solutions is growing.

For Annual Connection Committee Chair Rick Johnson, the supplier exhibition is more than just a “chance for suppliers to promote themselves and show off their wares”.

“It’s a chance to connect with the people that use their products and show their appreciation for what the industry does for their business.”

For more information visit