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Like a duck to water

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When Unitec student Andrew Long went on work experience with the engineering and design consultancy Harrison Grierson, he knew his practical skills would prove useful. As it turned out, he took on a level of responsibility that deeply impressed his mentor and team leader, Will Platts.

New Zealand needs a lot of houses, and that means busy times for Harrison Grierson. At developments right across the country, their teams are working hand-in-hand with developers, builders, architects, landscapers and other partners to create the housing and associated infrastructure required.

Will Platts is a Team Leader in Land Development, based in Harrison Grierson’s Newmarket offices in Auckland. For some time now the Land Development team has been involved on Hobsonville Point, the fastest-growing new community in Auckland. And, as it nears completion, work has already started on Scott Point just to the south. It’s called for all hands to the pump, which is why Will has been so pleased with the input from Andrew Long, a Bachelor of Engineering Technology student from Unitec. On work experience with Harrison Grierson as part of his course requirements, Andrew was tasked with designing the stormwater and wastewater drainage infrastructure on a superlot at Hobsonville. “Like many of our projects, this was multi-faceted. What impressed me about Andrew was his ability to jump straight in, cope with the complexity, and make an immediate and valuable contribution.”

Super-sized responsibility

The scale and pace of the Hobsonville Point project offers enormous opportunity, for those capable of rising to the challenge. Andrew quickly found himself in a design coordination role. “This means he prepared the design for the sites–roading, stormwater infrastructure, power, telecoms, gas, lighting, stormwater treatment, runoff–all that and more. We’re talking reasonable size sites, too. There’s a huge amount to think about,” says Will. “Andrew doesn't design it all but he coordinates the design: making sure, if a building is going in, it’s as per the master plan. There’s always a lot of questions from contractors and pressure from clients, so it involves building relationships based out on site.”

It also meant Andrew’s designs needed resource consent and engineering approval from Council, which again involves relationship building. “One minute you’re on the phone to Council, next you get a call from a client, and then you’re dealing with one of the builders. And they all want different things,” advises Will. “The clients want to get it done and they’re worried about money; the Council’s focused on a good outcome and the quality of the design–you really have to be able to take one hat off and put another one on very quickly. But Andrew’s taken to it like a duck to water.”

Being able to handle the many competing demands with confidence and competence, from day one, means Andrew has already carved himself out a solid reputation. “The industry is small enough that many of the people you’re working with will likely be on the next job,” advises Will. “You’re only as good as your last job, so when people know they can count on you, that counts for a lot.”

A problem-solving mindset

As a Team Leader, Will has a number of people reporting to him. As well as keeping an eye on the progress of projects, he reviews the development of team members, giving him a keen appreciation of their development and performance. Harrison Grierson attracts students on work experience from other Universities besides Unitec, but Will sees a difference with students like Andrew. “The big difference I notice with the Unitec students is they seem to get a lot more practical hands-on exposure,” he says. “They come in with very much a practical problem-solving mindset and they demonstrate critical thinking They have the ability to be able to break it down and analyse it in its parts. I guess it really shows that the real world is the best way to learn.”

Work-ready and in demand

For Andrew, seizing the opportunities given to him by Harrison Grierson at Hobsonville came naturally.

“At Unitec, you learn more skills than just the theory,” he says. “That’s why I’ve been able to deal with clients, manage projects and be work-ready even before I graduate. It gives me real confidence to know that, on day one, I can handle the job and perform to a high standard.”

While Andrew was able to hit the ground running on the Hobsonville Point development, the experience he gained there, and the mentoring from Will, has been exceptionally valuable. “It’s easy to get tunnel vision after staring at the same set of plans for days on end, so a fresh set of eyes can pick up any potential design issues,” Andrew says. “It was good to have the freedom to develop the plans as I saw fit, but it was reassuring to have someone like Will to talk with about any potential issues.”

Andrew’s time at Harrison Grierson has also given him priceless exposure to people in the industry. Having performed so well, it’s no surprise that he has plenty of options. But he has enjoyed working with Will’s team so much that it’s likely he’ll stay with them after graduation. “He’s enjoying what he's doing, and just having a bit of time off now,” says Will. “But at the end of the year the company's keen to keep him.”

With the house-building boom in Auckland showing no signs of abating, work-ready and in-demand students like Andrew Long certainly have no end of opportunity.

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