Rebecca Banks – Crane Operator finds her place and continues family legacy

There’re a few conversations going around about university relevance and the benefits of learning on the job that have school-leavers thinking twice about their options. As an apprentice or trainee, you can land a job in your chosen industry and earn while you learn. There’s also no student debt mountain to pay off once your studies are finished.

This is exactly why Rebecca Banks, a 19-year-old crane operator, decided to leave school at 16 and join the family business.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do so I really didn’t want to take the big step of going to university and end up regretting it,” Rebecca explains. “My mum works in the office at Banks Engineering and Crane Hire and she needed help, so I decided to leave school and go work until I figured out what I wanted to do.”

Banks Engineering and Crane Hire was started by Rebecca’s dad over 20 years ago. While it may seem a big jump from admin to cranes, Rebecca took it all in her stride. “Well, we needed more qualified crane operators,” she explains, “so one day my dad just asked me if I wanted to sit my crane tickets and I just went for it.” Keeping the family legacy going, Rebecca operates a five-tonne crawler crane and a 20-tonne mobile crane and has her Dogman ticket and Class Two Load Pilot ticket.

Talking about the first time she hopped in a crane, Rebecca says:

“I was pretty nervous, there are a lot of factors you have to take into account, there’s a lot of maths that goes into operating a crane. It can be overwhelming in the beginning because there’s a lot to remember, but like any job, once you do it a few times, you get used to it.”

What Rebecca loves most about the role is the variety, “It’s pretty challenging but every single job you go to is completely different, so it’s a forever changing job.”

She also enjoys people’s reactions when she gets introduced as a crane operator, “Yeah, there aren’t a lot of female crane operators, so it’s pretty out there and watching their mouths drop is pretty funny, it’s nice to surprise people.”

When asked why she didn’t think twice about getting her crane tickets Rebecca said, “I think it was because when you go to university, you’re not guaranteed to get a job afterwards. However, if you go into a trade, you’re pretty much guaranteed a job. In that sense, it’s way better than going to university, but it depends on what you want to do really.”

Because Rebecca took the time to think about her options, she’s been able to save up while gaining skills and experience. Pretty soon she’ll be in a position a lot of her uni friends will have to wait a bit longer for, “All my friends have horrible debt but in the next year or so I will be looking at purchasing my first home.”

Rebecca is one of the few women in the country that operates heavy machinery on site. She does think there is a stigma against women in trades but feels that if women have confidence in themselves, their work will speak for itself. “The guys on site don’t find it weird having a girl operating a crane. They’re all very patient and helpful, quick to answer any questions I have,” she says.

Rebecca wants to continue working her way up the ranks and move on to the bigger 50 and 90-tonne cranes. She has some advice for women out there looking to enter trades:

“Construction companies I have spoken with have been very encouraging towards women getting into trades because they’re generally gentler with the machinery. If you’re a woman who wants to get into the industry, you could easily get a job because you’re being sought after really.”

Enrolments Now Open for New Zealand Certificate in Cranes (Level 4)

Skills recently made some changes to the crane qualification to make sure it’s up to date and the best it can be. With the construction boom in full force these changes have improved the qualification at a time where New Zealand needs more crane operators.

The New Zealand Certificate in Cranes (Level 4) qualification will enable trainees to work in specialist crane operator or advanced dogman roles.

The available strands are:

  • Advanced Dogman
  • Crawler Crane
  • Mini Crane
  • Mobile Crane
  • Non-Slewing Articulated Crane
  • Tower Crane
  • The training normally takes around 9 months, depending on the strand chosen.


Want to find out more?

We’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have, contact us today.

Enrolments for Rigging Recognition of Current Competency Level 5 now open

The enrolments for the Rigging Recognition of Current Competency (RCC) Level 5 programme are now open for those with experience in rigging who would like to apply for a formal qualification.

What is RCC?

An RCC allows you to get official recognition and qualifications for the skills and experience you already have. This may be experience from working on the job, or from overseas rigging qualifications. Whatever your level of experience, there’s a pathway you can work through to stay at the top of your game.

Who’s it for?

The New Zealand Certificate in Rigging (Level 5) recognises advanced rigging skills and knowledge. You will be competent to plan, prepare documentation and control complex rigging. This qualification is the third step in the New Zealand load-lifting rigging qualification pathway. It is suitable for people who have gained the New Zealand Certificate in Rigging (Level 4) with optional strands in Construction Rigging.

How does the RCC process work?

All you need to do is send in a portfolio showing your experience and/or overseas qualifications. If these are deemed satisfactory, you’ll be required to sit an assessment. Based on your results, you’ll either be awarded the qualification or made aware of the areas that need a bit more work. If you have any questions along the way, we’re here to help.

Get your years of hard work and experience backed by a nationally recognised qualification.

Click here to start the process today.

Kurt Douglas – How a young man, going nowhere, turned his life around.

Kurt Douglas’s story is truly inspirational. How a young man, going nowhere, turned his life around. He took on a trade and then scaled the heights. Literally. The trade was scaffolding. And now Kurt has progressed from being ‘on the tools’ to senior management.

The story, initially, was a classic one of a young man having no direction. “At school, I didn’t apply myself. No effort was put into academic stuff even though I was ok at chemistry and physics.”

He left school with a couple of NCEA credits and then drifted for about five years, “just kicking around with my mates and on a benefit. There was a fair bit of abuse – alcohol, drugs, cigarettes.”

Kurt knew he had to get away from that lifestyle. “My partner could see it. I got the ultimatum. “Stay here and be a drop kick or we do something.” They moved away from Kaitaia to Whangarei. “She’s probably the reason why I’m not still in Kaitaia.”

To continue receiving a benefit Kurt had to do an LSV (Limited Service Volunteers) boot camp. “It was like Army basic training – routine and discipline but with cotton wool. Quite PC and motivational. ” The course took six weeks. No alcohol, no drugs and even the supply of cigarettes was limited.

“I came out feeling very inspired. It really did change my mindset.” And he gave up the drink. “I’m an all or nothing person.”

At a Mayoral lunch to celebrate the end of the course, Kurt met Chris Douglas from Northland Scaffolding and they had a brief chat.

At the same time, by chance, a pre-trade course in scaffolding came up, aimed at recruiting workers for the oil refinery. Kurt enjoyed it and was keen for some work experience. So, he rang Chris who took him on one day a week. Kurt says, “You have to get your foot in the door and prove your worth.”

Then the company needed some workers for a Saturday job. Kurt was up for it but said they had to pay him. “So, I did a couple of weekends and started making noises about full-time employment.” Chris says jokingly, “he pestered us so much I had to give him a job!”

“Basically, Chris took me on as a labourer,” Kurt says. “Then, as my skills got better, he applied for me to do the elementary block course at Tai Poutini Polytechnic. Free-standing scaffolding, nothing too technical.”

That took around six months to complete with quite a fast turnaround before Kurt went into his intermediate course, which took three to four months. “Then I went straight into my advanced ticket, which is the technical one.”

Maths was relevant at this stage, with calculations for counter-weights and fulcrum points, live loads and dead loads. “By then at least I had half an idea as to what I was doing.”

What Kurt is shy about admitting is that he finished the course with both an advanced ticket and the award for national Scaffolding Trainee of the Year. “It’s been the rise and rise of Kurt,” says Chris. “We can take a little bit of ownership as we’ve supported him all the way! But self-motivation is the key.”

Since Kurt qualified, Skills and SARNZ (Scaffold, Access and Rigging NZ) have teamed up to establish a proper apprenticeship, with scaffolding now officially recognised as a trade.

Soon after qualifying, Chris offered Kurt the position of Operations Supervisor. He was off the tools and into management. “He’s great at seeing an end goal. He puts a lot of passion and drive into his work, always trying to learn, always asking questions. His accelerated growth is extremely positive. It’s a cool story – going from nothing, to what he’s achieved in a short period of time. ”

Chris says Kurt works hard on himself, trying to understand people’s differences. “Sometimes he just wants to give them a kick up the bum and get stuck in. Like he does. But not everyone’s motivated that way.”

Looking to the future Kurt says scaffold design really interests me, learning what an engineer requires. And Chris is supporting him by introducing him to software design packages.

As much as he enjoys management, Kurt really liked his time on the tools. His advice to anyone thinking of doing an apprenticeship, “If you’re a physical, fit sort of person you’ll enjoy it. It’s a hard case bunch of guys.”

With the new qualification, he thinks scaffolding is going to become a popular trade. “When something gets completed to a high standard, I like that. You can stand back and look at it like it’s a piece of art. But it’s always a team effort. You can never take full credit for it. The brotherhood of the boys is very strong. Everyone looks out for each other.”

James Baxter – From Engineering Student to Plumbing Apprentice

James Baxter sounds like a model employee who’s got his work/life balance just about right.

He likes what he is doing and knows where he’s going. But there were a few changes he had to make along the way.

At school James was good at the more academic subjects. “Not so much literacy, more numeracy,” he says. He enjoyed physics and maths and it was assumed he would go to University.

wo years into a Network Engineering degree he had a change of heart. “I decided it wasn’t for me. I felt I should open my eyes to other options.” Keeping his eyes open, he drove diggers for two years, but knew he wanted a qualification.

Then he met an engineer who had once been a plumber. “He suggested I try to get the same qualification he had.”

So, James contacted John Garratt, the boss of Hockly Plumbers. At the end of the interview John asked if he wanted to work for the company. James said yes and was chucked straight in. “I wasn’t holding someone’s tool bag.”

It was supposed to be a three-month trial. After just four days John Garratt said, “Do you want to sign up now?”

“The age thing definitely helped,” says James, “They could see I wanted to work.”

Now, aged 24, he is three years into his four-year plumbing and gas-fitting apprenticeship. But James wants more qualification. “I will do the drain-laying ticket as well.” That will mean five years to qualify with certification two years after that. He’s keen.

The Study

Is James’s knowledge of maths and physics useful?

“Yeah, 100 per cent. It’s useful when it comes to things like pipe sizing and gas supply. The pressure of going to university means that the trade misses out on a whole lot of people like me.”

James is diligent. Every day, he gets to work an hour before he’s supposed to start. “I study in that hour – Essential Skills and study guides. But I also like hands-on learning as opposed to rote learning from a screen.”

What he likes about the job

James likes that he gets to put into practice what someone tells him to do. “I like the problem-solving aspect to it. You don’t know what the issue is. You have to figure it out.”

He likes the feeling of specialisation he gets. “I like knowing a lot about a specific thing, something not everyone knows about.”

He gives the example of what he calls ‘reactive maintenance’ on big buildings. “A work order comes in and a whole building won’t have hot water. You have to go in and work out why not. It’s exciting, like solving a puzzle.”

Every day is different and the variety of the work is stimulating. “I really like that I’m not stuck in the same place all day. You get to meet a whole lot of other people. There’s a lot of skills I have now that I’ve picked up from being around other trades.”

James recounts working in a building in Wellington where everyone could smell sewerage. “We went into the basement and the stack where all the toilets fed into had fallen out. The smell of sewerage was going into the vents for the entire building.”

Working Environment

An important part of what James enjoys is the working environment in the company, starting with the boss.

“Johnny is really cool. He’s cruisy, but he’s always checking up on everyone. He wants to make sure everyone is happy.”

James talks about a TED Talk he watched recently, ‘Leaders Eat Last’. “If you’re in a work environment that isn’t stressful, everyone feels secure and there’s a culture of learning.” In stressful environments people are often sick, James says. “Johnny’s mentality is that if everyone in the company is happy, then everyone is healthy. You’re going to want to do a good job and the client will be happy.”

James really likes the people he works with. “I like hanging out with them. I get a really well-rounded education from them. We have similar interests. I’m an avid skier and half the company is also into snow sports. At 5 we don’t just go home, we’ll go somewhere and do things. It’s a really good culture. The older guys look out for you too. They call you out if you make mistakes. But you’re expected to.”

The Future

And how does James see his career progressing?

“I want to finish my trade and then specialise in as many things as I can. Like getting my ticket for testing backflow in a building.”

And he wants to get his abseiling ticket. “We contract out a fair amount of work on the outside of buildings to abseiling companies. If I had my ticket we could do all that in-house.”

Given how hard James has worked and how much he seems to be enjoying himself, his last comment hardly comes as a surprise.

“At some stage, I would like to work for myself.”

For the moment he is happy at Hockly.