Transmission Gully on hiring drive as earthworks expand beyond original brief

The development has struggled with a high turnover of workers.

Transmission Gully's Wellington Gateway Partnership has slowed the rate of staff quitting and plans to take on more than 450 workers as it prepares for a bigger earthworks programme than initially anticipated.

The partnership expects to increase hiring to tackle six million cubic metres of earthworks and 27 structures on the four-lane highway that will link the capital and Porirua City to the Kapiti Coast. The consortium is encouraging construction professionals, general labourers and plant operators to get in touch on its website.

Monthly progress reports to the New Zealand Transport Agency released under the Official Information Act show the project itself employed 155 people in November, December and January and was working through its management plans to make sure they were fit for purpose.

The development has struggled with a high turnover of workers. The rolling average for voluntary staff turnover was at 20% in January, unchanged from December and down from 21% in November and 22% in October, the reports show.

That compares to the 2015 voluntary turnover average across all industries of 12.6% in the annual New Zealand Staff Turnover survey, at a time when the volume of activity in the country's construction sector has seen labour costs increase as firms vie more aggressively for skilled and unskilled employees. Government data show there were 242,900 people working in construction at the end of last year, or 9.2%of the entire labour force.

Among initiatives to take on new staff, the construction joint venture between CPB Contractors and HEB Construction has plans to run a two-week boot camp for unemployed youth in February and hire at least 15 people, has received funding from Te Puni Kokiri for five Maori cadetships in 2017, interviewed 30 potential candidates from local iwi Ngati Toa, and talked to the Defence Force to look at Transmission Gully as an option for work once people left the military.

The focus on the workforce comes as Transmission Gully prepares for a larger earthworks programme than initially scoped.

The project has consent for 6.5 million cubic metres of earthworks, which covers the main alignment work, however the joint venture found work to dispose of "unsuitable material, ground improvements, environmental controls, topsoils stripping and stockpiling" didn't appear to be sufficiently allowed for in the consents, according to its January monthly progress report.

In January, CPB and HEB asked their consenting team to focus on acquiring a single permit that "gives flexibility and a buffer to give certainty and efficiency for earthworks production."

After a series of workshops with the joint venture, NZTA and councils, the construction partners had "reasonable confidence for a non-notified consent application which increases certainty around approval timeframes."

Wellington Gateway Partnership won the project to build the 27-kilometre highway, which NZTA has estimated will cost $850 million, in 2014. The consortium is made up of ASX-listed Cimic Group subsidiaries CPB and Pacific Partnerships, HEB, InfraRed Infrastructure General Partner, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFH and the Accident Compensation Corp to build the road and then operate and maintain it for 25 years.

The Kaikoura earthquake and downpour in November caused major delays on the northern zone of the project and parts of the southern zone, requiring remediation and clean-up work. However, the monthly updates show the project bounced back from that work, most of it finished in December, and the consortium continues to stick to its scheduled 2020 opening.