Search for Hillside workers

South Dunedin's Hillside workshops. Photo: ODT
South Dunedin's Hillside workshops. Photo: ODT
Dunedin's Hillside Workshops may be able to call on the skills of tradespeople laid off from Cadbury as the South Dunedin site returns to a fully functional engineering hub.

KiwiRail expects new recruits to be sourced from the Dunedin area, with extensive training on offer as staff numbers swell from 23 to about 100.

John Kerr
John Kerr
The company will be looking for the workers at a time of expected increasing skill shortages in the trades as the new Dunedin Hospital, a new Accident Compensation Corporation building and other projects begin.

The Government announced last week it was dedicating $19.97million of provincial growth funding to re-establish the workshop as a mechanical hub and heavy engineering facility to service KiwiRail's trains.

Most work at Hillside ended in 2012, after KiwiRail awarded an estimated $29million manufacturing contract to a Chinese company, in what was seen at the time as a terminal blow to the workshops.

The new investment meant KiwiRail would be able to earthquake-proof ageing buildings, get rid of asbestos, overhaul equipment at the site and more.

It will become a multipurpose workshop that can ramp up its maintenance and upgrades of rolling stock and possibly fit out passenger cars, as has been done in the past.

Asked if Dunedin had the skills available to fill the 40 extra jobs expected to be required in the next three years, and about 25 more in the ensuing years, Rail & Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) South Island organiser John Kerr said there were challenges.

"Skilled tradesmen are difficult to get hold of, there's no question about that."

When Hillside was "run down" prior to its 2012 closure, a lot of the pool of talent left the city.

However, quite a few tradespeople left Cadbury after its closure last year, and some were still around.

Mr Kerr said KiwiRail was committed to "bringing in new blood" and was a very good employer in terms of training.

KiwiRail had recognised one of its biggest risks was a demographic bulge of older, mostly male workers, who were going to be retiring.

Recruitment and training programmes had been put in place to deal with that, and the RMTU had worked with the company on the issue.

Mr Kerr said there would be former Cadbury staff with the necessary skills to move to Hillside.

A few had already moved to Dunedin Railways.

While there were "nuances" differentiating work in a factory from work on trains, the likes of fitters, for instance, would be able to adapt to the new workplace fairly easily, as would boilermakers, Mr Kerr said.

The combination of talent that was about, and that both the company and the union were committed to training people, meant the new jobs could be filled.

KiwiRail chief operating officer David Gordon said the company would first be working to upgrade the two main workshops and establish new facilities to undertake other types of maintenance work.

"We will be staging this work to minimise any disruption on the existing activities at Hillside.

"Once that is done we can expand operations and take on additional staff."

At least 10% of the new staff would be apprentices.

"We expect that a number of the new recruits will come from Dunedin and that clearly there will need to be extensive training for some."

Comments

This makes much more sense than building an ego trip down the harbour.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter