After graduating, Richard Greatrex CMEngNZ IntPE(NZ) worked on major transport projects in Aotearoa, geothermal fields in Indonesia, and generalist civil work after moving to Nelson. Designing stormwater basins, then farm dam safety upgrades led to a broader interest in dam engineering, and his current role as Owner’s Construction Manager and Engineer’s Representative for Waimea Community Dam. Outside of his mahi, Richard’s heavily involved with the New Zealand Cadet Forces.

What does your role as Unit Commander of the Nelson Air Cadets unit entail?

I lead a team of 10 adult staff to make sure that the activities we provide for 50 teenagers are safe and engaging.

How much time does this involve?

I tell people it’s a two night a week job being a Cadet Forces Officer. One night is spent with the cadets at our base, teaching and mentoring. The other night is spent on planning, administration and logistics. There are also weekend activities and occasional professional development courses hosted by the New Zealand Defence Force.

How did you first get involved with this mahi?

I was a cadet myself all through high school. I’d been looking for something to occupy me outside of school hours and one of my friends had already joined. I saw some recruiting material and joined up. It played a huge part in my “growing up”.

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Photo: Tim Cuff/Nelson Creative

What do you love most about this work?

Seeing young adults grow in self-awareness, life skills and leadership ability. Graduates of the New Zealand Cadet Forces programme, at the age of 18, are exceptionally talented and capable individuals and it’s a great feeling seeing them go on and make their mark in the world. Their skillset is a direct result of a structured, disciplined training programme that has staged opportunities to apply the learning and receive feedback.

Where has this mahi taken you?

All over the country, from the mountains to flying gliders solo. It has also resulted in several new qualifications (bushcraft instructor, range safety officer, New Zealand Qualifications Authority assessor) and I’ve represented Aotearoa at the International Air Cadet Exchange. Most of all, I’ve got a deeper understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses as a team member and leader.

What has been your biggest challenge with this mahi?

There is always more you can do, and cadets are always willing to turn up to more activities. It’s a challenge to keep lifestyle balance.

What would you say is your greatest achievement in this area?

The Nelson Air Cadet unit is now one of the largest in the country, punching well above our weight for a provincial centre. Sustainable growth like this is an indication that our cadets enjoy coming, are developing into capable leaders, and are staying on a pathway to becoming good citizens. We can’t grow any more because our building is too small for us now.

Tell us something about your involvement with this work that might surprise people.

Teenage cadets will readily follow instructions! There is a high standard of discipline required from adults and cadets alike. I iron my uniform, polish my shoes, call my superior officers “Sir” or “Ma’am”. The teenage cadets do the same and pride themselves on their appearance and teamwork.

Why did you choose engineering as a career?

I thought engineering played to some of my strengths like attention to detail, logical approach, interest in science and the need to organise work in teams. I had enjoyed things like debating and audio-visual work in theatres through school and realised that engineering needed people who could communicate and organise technical complexities.

Does being an engineer bring any advantages to the way you approach your mahi with cadets?

I warn people “expect me to ask about your plan”. Cadets taught me to plan early on, but my engineering work has exposed me to more useful procedures like stage gates, document control, and how to run meetings and report to boards.

What’s next for you with this work?

In January there will be 100 cadets mustering from around the country for a week of adventure training and tramping expeditions in the Southern Alps. You can find out more about the New Zealand Cadet Forces at