On Tuesday 17 October we held our largest branch event yet in the lecture theatre in University of Canterbury. The theme for this event was making infrastructure happen; a spotlight on public infrastructure and applied asset management. This Āpōpō branch event is a unique industry and university collaboration. Āpōpō offers free student membership and subscription to The Āpōpō guide.

AECOM sponsored the event and provided food and drinks for the attendees. These events are not possible without this sponsorship so a huge thank you goes out to AECOM for sponsoring and the University of Canterbury for hosting. The event was also supported by the passionate members of the Civil and Natural Resources Society who were also MC for the question and answer sessions at the end.

We had almost 200 third-year students and industry representatives at this branch event. There was food and networking so start with, then presentations by three ex-UC students.

The MC of the evening was Daniel van Derwalt, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil and Natural Resource Engineering  at the University of Canterbury. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of asset management, pavement engineering, risk, network data analysis and project delivery. Daniel is passionate about research, teaching and mentoring student engineers. Daniel won the 2021 Faculty of Engineering – Emerging Teaching Award, and in 2023 the peer mentor program he academically leads won the 2023 Engineering New Zealand – ENVI Award for Engineering Education. He welcomed everyone with a Karakia then introduced the speakers.

Andrew Robinson is the Head of Programme Management Office, Christchurch City Council

Andrew graduated from UC with a BE Civil (Hons) in 1988.  He is a Chartered Professional Engineer with 35 years’ experience in planning and organising multi-disciplinary project teams.

First he outlined the challenges of infrastructure in New Zealand: Cost pressures and context, labour shortages and finding the right people for the job, as well as securing adequate capital funding. Productivity and the workplace have changed dramatically even just in the last 3 years since covid.

One changes Andrew has seen in infrastructure planning is a shift in focus from simply measuring cost of a project to the value – the benefit to the community and environment. These can be harder to measure but are a more meaningful measure of the impact of an asset.

Andrew started his career working on a farm – which taught him a lot of transferable skills.

Resilience is an important focus in managing assets too. Andrew had some good examples in his experience with the Lyttleton port before the earthquake damage. Investment in insurance and managing risk must be considered in any asset plan.

New Zealand’s geography offers unique challenges with the small population, consenting timeframes and sensitive areas and communities.

Andrew gave us a high level look at the Christchurch City Council Long Term Plan and how these considerations are worked in to that plan.

Finally Andrew provided career advice from his experience:

  • Develop strategic acumen / curiosity / be inquisitive
  • Take an enterprise wide approach – and get inside the head of your clients/customers
  • Interpersonal skills / EI / advanced people leadership skills
  • Plot a general course but don’t be afraid to experiment and take the odd detour
  • The opportunity that presents itself rarely comes at the perfect time

Some great lessons for all of us to consider when evaluating where we are and where we want to be!

View Andrew’s slides here.

James Throne


James is a Senior 3 Waters Engineer and Asset Manager at WSP. He opened with a dramatic photo of the impact of asset failure.


James has a waters background and talked us through the challenges of pipe renewal. Renewal is an expensive exercise, it us unseen which means the quantity and quality of the problem can be difficult to measure. And there is a huge legacy issue with these assets which are often over 100 years old and from our first networks dating back to WW2 building boom. James talked us through the methodology of assessing the risk of failure, and then the likelihood of failure. He showed real life data and analysis of these which also demonstrated the challenge in assessment.

View Jame’s slides here

Charlotte Turner

Charlotte is a Pavement Engineer at Fulton Hogan. Charlotte graduated as a Civil Engineer from the University of Canterbury in 2021, and made a brilliant job appearing at the front of the lecture theatre on this return visit as a talented emerging leader in the asset management field.

Charlotte started by telling us about the work she did with Folton Hogan before she even started her study. It had a huge bearing on her interest in infrastructure asset management from a frontline perspective. Charlotte also referred to this through the Q&A’s as it influenced her career direction and gave her a real life hands on start within the sector.

She showed a sea of negative headlines about poor quality roads and required repairs which painted a bleak picture of how people experience the roading network. She then outlined how roads are maintained in NZ, and then the challenges; Financial constrains, small population, more trucks and extreme weather events.


Charlotte talked us through examples of  roading condition assessment and the options for treatment. There is no right answer and ultimately the decision is made balancing and compromising based on the council’s priorities. It was a really good example of how things which are out of an engineers control can influence the outcome.


View Charlotte’s slides here

All three presenters shared their career progression to asset management, with advice on navigating a career which is fulfilling and focused on providing better quality of life for their communities. They demonstrated how to apply asset management theory to real life assets as well as some of the challenges they have faced. They showed detail of how this can be done, from the data entry end to strategic outcomes.

The Civil and Natural Resources Society’s representatives Hannah and Ananya introduced themselves and then asked the panel several questions before questions from the floor were taken. Their motivation for studying Civil Engineering is to have a positive impact on communities.


Āpōpō Member Engagement Manager Emily Liddell introduced Āpōpō and the recent release of The Āpōpō guide – less than a week before. Membership for students is free, so Āpōpō encourages students to get involved with membership bodies before entering the workplace.

AECOM’s Regional Manager Laura Turner gave us an overview of their organisation and some of the projects they have been involved with. They also run a graduate program which some students may want to join in the coming year.

Civil Engineering lab tour

Industry representatives could attend an optional tour of the engineering labs which covered the structural, mechanical, soils and fluids labs which have recently been renovated. This offered a unique and limited opportunity to explore these state-of-the-art facilities firsthand and discover the cutting-edge experiments right in our own local area. We were able to witness the practical skills being imparted to the next generation of engineers.

One of the experiments we got to witness was fluid lab testing flumes with liquid flowing through the model culvert make of Perspex with sensors mounted at each end to calculate the flow. This equipment is being used to test sensors with the idea of being able to fit sensors to culverts for a few dollars each to monitor for major blockages or potential failures/flooding.

You can listen to the recording and watch the slides on the video below.