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In his father’s footsteps

Jayden Ellis is technical operations manager for Stevenson Construction Materials group. He joined the company 25 years ago as a trainee laboratory technician. He talks about his career with MARY SEARLE BELL.

WHEN HE WAS at school, a teacher told Jayden Ellis that those of his generation would change jobs up to eight times throughout their careers. This irked him greatly, and his thought at the time was, ‘my dad didn’t, why should I’?

So it was with great satisfaction he recently clocked up quarter of a century working for Stevenson Construction Materials, following in the footsteps of his father Steve, who is the general manager aggregates at Stevenson Resources and has worked for the company since 1973.

“When I was at school I had a part time job in produce at Big Fresh, and the potential was there to make a career in the supermarket business – they offered me a role that would see me move into management,” says Jayden.

Then his father mentioned there was an opportunity in a civil engineering laboratory at Stevenson, which would involve both lab and outdoor work – a good mix of both brain and physical work, he thought.

“My friends were heading to university, but that didn’t appeal – I had experienced working and wanted to continue making money, and I thought civil engineering had more interest than produce. I also thought the job title ‘lab technician’ sounded impressive.”

In February 1993, as an 18-year-old, Jayden began working in Stevenson’s lab, beginning his studies for his NZCE qualification in the same week.

Stevensons gave him half a day a week to go to tech and paid for every paper he passed. But it was a daunting prospect at the beginning.

“I was panicking; I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew,” he says.

“I had done all the sciences and maths at school, along with tech drawing, but I wasn’t an A student.”

But, not one to give in at the first hurdle, Jayden got stuck in. It took him five years to complete the papers for his NZCE part time, plus an additional three years to get his work experience signed off. By then, he had become the laboratory manager, supervising a team of up to 10 technicians.

His team was tasked with carrying out the testing for the various aggregate products the company produced, as well as the earthworks testing for the construction arm of the company.

Stevenson’s laboratory is an IANZ (International Accreditation New Zealand) accredited lab. In fact, it was the 17th lab accredited in this country and one of the first privately-owned labs to pass the IANZ strict standards.

Jayden is passionate about the lab and has invested time in helping raise the standards of civil engineering laboratory testing in New Zealand.

He helped found CETANZ – The Civil Engineering Testing Association – which represents civil testing laboratories around the country and works toward furthering the quality and understanding of civil testing. He currently leads the technical group and sits on the committee.

Although his career development has taken him out of the lab, he will always have a soft spot for the technicians and their work.

“I really enjoyed my time in the lab. It was challenging, frustrating and exhausting, and is often overlooked and marginalised. But they’re a great bunch of people, and I’ve made a lot of friends there.

“I want to support and help those in the lab, to let them know their job is important.”

“We only have a limited number of aggregate test methods at our disposal that work across most rock types. Proper petrology can be costly and time consuming. Good quarry operators will know their resources well, through trial and error or other means, but we need more transparent and less subjective techniques that can be done easily and quickly to reduce risk and keep the end users of our products happy.”

Work with the AQA

In 2012, Jayden was invited to reform the Technical Group for the AQA. This group focuses on developing new testing standards along with CETANZ, raising awareness, dealing with national specification relating to aggregates, and increasing technical understanding within the aggregates industry.

In addition, Jayden is currently deputy-chair of the AQA board; serves on Concrete NZ’s technical group, and is on the board of MinEx, the national health and safety council for the extractives sector.

Among the various issues the AQA and other associations are dealing with, one holds particular interest for him: The NZ Transport Agency’s new ‘Draft T/16 Ethylene Glycol Accelerated Weathering Test’, which is also known as the Ethelene Glycol test.

Jayden says the test is about to go through NZTA’s ratification process and be published as a new NZTA aggregate test method.

“The test has been developed by NZTA’s pavement team as a way of characterising and identifying aggregate products that potentially contain smectites or deleterious minerals that could affect the performance of a pavement.

“The goal is to see an improvement in the performance of road construction and is part of the agency’s ‘Quality Right – Zero Defects’ project.

“There have been a number of high profile early pavement failures for various reasons. The issue of rock source durability is just one of a number of areas the NZTA is looking at. Others include, quality control of M/4 basecourse using statistics approach and client driven quality plans, and testing minimums.”

Jayden explains that the Ethylene Glycol test, aggregate is subjected to a modified crushing resistance test: A sample is split in two and one half is subjected to a normal crushing resistance test and the other half pre-soaked in Ethelene Glycol (much like the Australian wet and dry strength variation test) before crushing, then the results of the two are compared.

“At this stage the test seems to be a good indicator of potential rock durability issues,” he says.

“As an aggregate producer and former lab guy, I fully endorse the efforts of the NZTA in developing another tool for the toolbox, especially one that can be done relatively easily and quickly. Hopefully it has good repeatability and reproducibility.”

Jayden’s laboratory background shows through in his concerns for the industry as a whole: “I don’t think we do enough of the scientific work to fully understand our resources,” he says.

“We only have a limited number of aggregate test methods at our disposal that work across most rock types. Proper petrology can be costly and time consuming. Good quarry operators will know their resources well, through trial and error or other means, but we need more transparent and less subjective techniques that can be done easily and quickly to reduce risk and keep the end users of our products happy.”

He is pleased that the NZTA has worked collaboratively with the AQA, CETANZ and others on the Ethelene Glycol test, but acknowledges that change always disrupts the norm.

“Some of us will have to review our quarry resources and current processing techniques but, ultimately, the taxpayer will get better value for money.” 

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