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Big dig energy coming to Feilding as excavator operators vie for natl title

New Zealand’s top excavator operators will be bringing big dig energy to Feilding at the end of this week when they roll their 13-tonne machines onto Manfeild Park for the Civil Contractors New Zealand CablePrice National Excavator Operator Competition.

This year’s event, taking place on 15 and 16 March during the Central Districts Field Days, marks the 30th anniversary of the heavy metal showdown.

The 2024 edition will feature a host of new never-seen-before challenges, as well as the crowd-pleasing tests of precision fans have come to know and love, such as dunking a basketball using an excavator’s bucket or pouring a cup of tea using a specially engineered excavator attachment.

“It promises to be the most spectacular competition yet, with some breathtaking new challenges that won’t be revealed to competitors until they rumble out onto the arena on the event’s first day”, said Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Alan Pollard.

“The quirky tests of skill always bring the crowds but there’s a more serious side to the event as well, with plenty of traditional tasks such as trenching, operating around underground services, and tests of operator’s health and safety knowledge.”

Pollard said a big talking point this year was whether defending champion Troy Calteaux from Otago company Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd could become the first to win four titles.

Standing in his way will be 12 other elite operators who have won separate excavator operator competitions in their home regions to reach the national finals.

Among them is Manawatū-Whanganui champion John McMillan, who will have the benefit of local support. McMillan works for Loaders Civil in Whanganui and is hoping to finish on the pedestal in his first tilt at the national title.

“The other competitors will travel from all across the country and they might have a few people in support, but being from the local area most people will be flying that Manawatu-Whanganui flag and supporting me.”

Pollard said the annual competition provided a chance to celebrate New Zealand’s excavator operators and inspire young people to consider careers in civil contracting.

“Whether it’s aging pipe networks or demand for new roads, the infrastructure challenges we are facing across New Zealand are becoming increasingly acute. We need more machine operators and many other roles across the industry and this is a great way to shine a spotlight on the talent required and the opportunities available in civil construction.”

The competition was founded in 1994 by CCNZ Manawatu Branch as the brainchild of local contractors Graeme Blackley and Grant Smith.

“It’s amazing to think that this competition has now been around for longer than Super Rugby. It’s as Kiwi as they come and it would have to be one of the more unique spectacles our country has to offer,” Pollard said.

He encouraged people to visit the Central District Field Days to support the competitors, many of whom had been involved in building and maintaining roads and water pipes across the country or assisting with the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle over the past year.

To celebrate the event’s 30th anniversary, a special exhibition showdown will take place alongside the official competition, with Calteaux going up against the only other person to have won the National Excavator Operator Competition three times – Gordon Fox.

Operators compete side by side and Calteaux’s timed events will see him paired with Northland operator Fox – who won in 1997, 1999 and 2002 when he last competed. Fox won’t be part of the official competition but will help set a benchmark for the other operators.

Other mainstays of the event will return, including the Z Energy One-day Job Challenge, which tests the full range of operators’ skills and involves site planning, layout and execution.

An EPIC Careers Hub will be set up next to the excavator operator competition course for the duration of the Central Districts Field Days (14-16 March), for members of the public interested in trying excavator operation or exploring careers in the industry.

The careers hub will feature a truck-mounted excavator simulator, a VR excavator experience, truck driving and traffic control experiences, a Connexis digital simulator, floor talks from infrastructure construction workers and opportunities to meet and be hired by civil infrastructure construction companies and opportunities to have a go on a real excavator, supported by an expert trainer.

The Platinum Sponsor for this year’s competition is CablePrice, which has been a longstanding supporter of the industry and the competition. CablePrice also provides and services the Hitachi excavators the competitors operate during the event.

Other major competition sponsors include Attach2, BeforeUDig, Brolube, Civil Trades, Connexis, Contractor Magazine, Doug the Digger, First Gas, Hirepool, Humes, Milwaukee, Major Oak Safety Training and Z Energy.

 

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