Lessons Learned from Five Decades of Civil Engineering

At the Northern Branch meeting on Thursday 6 May in Whangarei, Branch Chair Cushla Anich had the honour of presenting a special award to one of our members, Michael (Mick) Jones. As of 7 May 2021, Mick has been a member of IPWEA NZ for 50 years, since joining on 7th May 1971.

Since his first job at the Ministry of Works in Dunedin in 1964, Mick has worked in councils and his own consultancy, up and down the length and breadth of the country.

Mick took the time to share some reflections on his life in civil engineering.

“In reflecting on over five decades of a civil engineering career I am still amazed at the support from my employers over the years, the range of activities, and the advances in technology. The first big demanding job was supervising the Lake Moana Nui dam contract in Tokoroa 1974/75, and dayworks contouring the edges of the 5Ha recreational lake behind it. The pressure was really on for the Contractor excavating coffer dams, exposing the downstream parent rock, clearing out the stilling basin; and pouring reinforced concrete on the lower downstream sections of a 60 metre wide spillway during the seven days it took to fill the lake.

Another highlight was the deck replacement on the 53m long Arapuni Headrace Bridge in 1995; not so much the technology which were precast elements over reconditioned 65 year old steel beams, but the inclusion of a performance bonus for early completion (given its strategic importance crossing the Waikato River), and a plan to allow the school bus across the spillway control structure owned by the hydro electric station. Following an exciting year as a consultant, I was involved in providing comment on a large scale (14 farm) “forest to farm” development west of Tokoroa in 2009, and UV disinfection upgrades on 4 community water supplies in 2013/14.

There were a few funny moments of course, like the time in the mid sixties when I had to resort to five figure log tables in Omarama to calculate “a missing line” setting out a highway curve because the only (mechanical) calculator available was located at MOW Dunedin. Then there was the grief we always seemed to get from the accounts section about capital works near the end of a financial year. The 18m long Scott Road rail overbridge replacement contract in 2006 was running late, and nobody would believe it could be accomplished in the final fortnight, so I took one of the staff to the site to prove the bridge was able to be completed – within 10 days. In the previous year the Transfund liaison engineer leaned over the old hardwood bridge abutment, broke a water pipe, and got soaked for his troubles. We still managed to get funding assistance!

My favourite memories with IPWEA NZ and its predecessors were the annual conferences – the papers, and the social side. I still remember the paper boats George Ridley made us build in teams at the Rotorua hotel indoor pool, and the “Pipin Hot” performance at Queenstown. Then there was the bus trip to the southern coast on a bitterly cold day at the Invercargill conference when a sea lion came roaring out of the surf and gave us all the evil eye.

My advice to younger members is to enjoy the journey, embrace change, and work at your craft and profession. Working with nature has challenges, and ample reward if you use the right skill sets. As you progress in your career take the time to mentor younger members. It is very satisfying.

IPWEA NZ has added value to my career by providing the networking opportunities, the traditional short courses, and by providing us all with internationally recognised manuals on Infrastructure Management, Valuations, and various Codes of Practice. They have provided a “game changer” in the way we manage our public assets, assisted with the accounting of assets, and provided the tools to anticipate declines in “service potential’ thus ensuring continued service to our customers – who pay the bills.”