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Hot Antarctica job beckons young engineer

Hot Antarctica job beckons young Wellington engineer

Hayden’s work manufacturing and installing cable cars has taken him to some precarious and spectacular locations, but no where quite like Antarctica.


Lower Hutt resident Hayden Harrison is preparing for the hottest opportunity of his lifetime – a five month adventure as an apprentice engineer at Antarctica’s Scott Base.

Hayden (20) has spent the last two and a half years as an apprentice engineer employed by Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ) and seconded to Wellington company Access Automation, a leading manufacturer of cable cars and hillside lifts in the New Zealand and Asia Pacific region.

He was one of five ATNZ third year engineering apprentices short listed from around the country and interviewed by Antarctica New Zealand last month.

“I was on the side of a steep Wellington hill installing a cable car when I got the call from Kevin at Antarctica New Zealand saying I’d been chosen for the position. It was pretty windy and hard to hear on my mobile but when I realised what the call was about, I was blown away,” says Hayden.

“They said I could think about it overnight and I did – but it didn’t take too much thinking!”

Hayden will join a team of scientists and engineers at Scott Base providing essential maintenance services to the plant and machinery, while helping support New Zealand’s research efforts including science and weather experiments.

Hayden is no stranger to stints away from his family, girlfriend and friends, having travelled around New Zealand and overseas installing cable cars.

“I’ve been all over New Zealand, including several trips to Kawau Island. I’ve also been to Indonesia three times working on some installations, the last one was on a cliff face in Bali for a five star resort.

“My family and friends are fully supportive of me going and they all know it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m going to miss some of my close mates’ 21sts, but we’ll make up for that when I get back,” he says.

All of Hayden’s extreme cold weather and work gear is provided by Antarctica New Zealand.

“It’s 20 degrees inside the base so shorts and t-shirts are fine. I just need to take thermals, and any personal things like CDs and my camera. I was even told at the interview that some people take their guitars and that I might be able to take my drums, but I’m not sure about that!”

As a keen snowboarder, Hayden designed and built a special snow scooter which survived its first season last year.

“I saw a picture of one in an overseas magazine and built it from that. It looks like I may be able to take that too.”

ATNZ is a non-profit organisation and a subsidiary of Competenz, the Engineering Industry training Organisation. It employs young people as apprentice engineers and seconds them to companies. This is a totally different approach to running apprenticeships in New Zealand at a time when there is a huge shortage of skilled young people.

The advantages to the employer from this approach include mentoring and assistance from an ATNZ co-ordinator, support for theory and block course work, and companies do not have to carry the full burden of being an employer because much of the human resources work is undertaken by ATNZ.

ATNZ has worked closely with Antarctica New Zealand to help in the selection of an engineering apprentice to cover the summer season in Antarctica.

Antarctica New Zealand Maintenance Engineer, Kevin Rigarlsford, says this is far from a normal engineering position and Hayden will be joining a small group of committed people working to achieve clear objectives.

“Getting your head around being in Antarctica will be the first challenge for Hayden. It’s an environment unlike any other and one where teamwork is absolutely critical. Working as part of a tight knit team brings great satisfaction and Hayden will have to be quite adaptable and willing to put his hand to anything from plumbing and welding to digging snow.”

Around 80 people live at Scott Base, the New Zealand base in Antarctica during the summer season. Staff range from communications operators and plant operators, to domestic staff and field support staff and are drawn from a range of areas including the defence forces.

Outside summer temperatures in Antarctica normally range from -25°C very early in October to about 0°C in mid summer. Indoors, the temperature is kept at a comfortable 18 to 20°C. Accommodation is basic but comfortable and due to the isolated location and nature of the work, all workers are on 24 hour call.

Southern Operations Manager for ATNZ, Lewis Thompson, says this Antarctic experience represents an opportunity of a lifetime for Hayden.

“It will be something that will remain in Hayden’s memory for the rest of his lifetime. He’ll get to work in one of the harshest environments in the world, utilising a wide range of skills, and relying on a very special group of people.”

Hayden departs for three weeks’ training in Christchurch on September 13 and will fly out directly to Scott Base from Christchurch on October 4, returning in February next year.

Hayden says his work installing cable cars has taken him to some precarious and spectacular locations, but nothing quite like Antarctica.

“It’ll be summer there, so it’s daylight 24 hours a day. It’s going to be pretty out of this world.”


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