Graeme Hillas pictured at site in New Zealand

A love of the outdoors and fixing things was all it took to set Graeme Hillas on a successful career path that has now spanned 43 years.

The telecommunications technician has now been recognised as one of the leaders in his field after being voted runner-up in the Employee of the Year category at the 2021 Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand (RFUANZ) awards.

The Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand (RFUANZ) is a not-for-profit organisation with members who hold radio licenses in New Zealand, as well as members who have an interest in the Radio Communications Industry.

Recognising success

When an employee is recognised by their peers it's always a proud moment, but when that recognition comes directly from a client it makes it all the more special.

Graeme, who is based in Invercargill, was nominated by one of his key clients, PowerNet for the Employee of the Year award, for going beyond the call of duty, consistently helping others and showing great initiative.

One of the highlights of the nomination was the section around helping others which stated that Graeme has worked with clients, suppliers and designers to improve the overall quality of the end product. His mentorship of younger apprentices and willingness to share his knowledge with clients, suppliers and industry colleagues does not go unnoticed.

Consistent with the words of his nomination, Graeme was typically humble to have been recognised. He said that despite being more than 40-years into his career, he still gets great pleasure from his work.

"I love getting out of the office and going to the Repeater Sites (an electronic device for telecommunications to extend transmissions so that the signal can cover longer distances) all around the southern part of New Zealand," he said.

I still get a buzz when I figure out why something is not working properly and fixing it.

Graeme is a communications technician for the Lower South Island group and provides fault restoration in the Transpower, PowerNet, 2 Degrees and Department of Conversation Networks in the southern region of New Zealand. His role also involves maintenance of all the radio circuits for PowerNet in the TPC (The Power Company Ltd) and EIL (Electricity Invercargill Ltd) distribution networks as well as construction of radio and some fibre installations for the same client group.

Graeme Hillas pictured with his award at the 2021 Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand (RFUANZ) awards.

Above and beyond for over 43 years

Pursuing a career as a communications technician started with a pretty simple criterion.

"I grew up on a farm in Northern Southland midway between Queenstown and Invercargill and I enjoy the outdoors. I also enjoy fixing things that are not working properly, which may seem a bit old fashioned in todays' time, where most things are thrown away when they stop," Graeme said.

Radio is the medium used to provide communications for all sorts of services and it often goes via places in the outdoors, so it was a great fit.

Graeme started his career with the New Zealand Post Office where he trained as a radio technician, enhancing his skills at the Invercargill Radio Depot initially based at ZLB Awarua Radio.

"In those days we worked and attended block courses where we learnt the radio, electronic and electrical principles that gave a foundation that has served me throughout my career," Graeme said.

This training and education resulted in achieving the qualifications Radio Technicians Certificate followed by Supplementary Radio Technicians Certificate.

His time at the New Zealand Post Office and later Telecom, ended in 1994 when he joined PowerMark which was the maintenance arm of the old New Zealand Electricity Department and ultimately leading to Ventia (previously Broadspectrum).

"PowerMark was a New Zealand State-Owned Enterprise which was sold some years ago and we have had several owners since," Graeme said.

Finding a highlight from this 43-year career span is tough according to Graeme.

It doesn't seem like 43 years! he said.

"There have been projects like Penrod 78, which required a repeater two thirds of the way down Stewart Island for phone links to an oil rig in the Southern Ocean.

"There was the driving of brand-new vans with microwave equipment from the North Island and the installation and commissioning of that microwave equipment through to Te Anau.

"There was the relocation of the PowerNet control room from the long-gone Southland Electric Power Supply building in the centre of Invercargill to the Transpower Invercargill Substation.  And also, several upgrades of the Transpower communications through the Molesworth, upper Waitaki and Waitaki Valley, amongst many others."

Graeme also recalls the first time he had to get to a site by helicopter, and with cloud coming in the take-off required the full expertise of the pilot, which made for some nervous moments for a first timer.

Championing safety and health above all else

Working in the industry that he does, Graeme fully understands the importance of safety on the job, following the mantra "Work Safe, Home Safe".

Safe working practices are very important - there are no second chances in some of the situations I find myself, he said.

Graeme Hillas pictured at project site