Geotechnical Testing Technician


Geotechnical testing technician Dave Pollard holds both a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) and the earlier New Zealand Certificate in Engineering (NZCE) in Civil Engineering.

That’s because he was partially through his NZCE when the diploma was introduced and he wanted his qualifications to be completely up-to-date.

“The NZDE study was started at Opus; they helped me through the first few subjects – it’s been really good,” says Dave.

Testing and analysing soil and concrete samples

Dave works in Petone at one of the engineering consultancy’s specialist testing laboratories. He mainly tests and analyses soil and concrete samples.

Asset Performance Manager Sheldon Bruce, who employed Dave at Opus, explains the work:

“We test soils and aggregates. The soil testing can be for roading projects or construction projects, so it’s all about providing engineers with the information they need to be able to design and lay a road, or erect a building on the materials that are there.

“And then we also look at the manufactured materials, such as the pavement materials that go into the making of a road, and we do the testing of those as well.

“So, it’s really just telling the engineers that everything is okay as they are designing and laying the road – that they are getting the quality they need in that road. And then, of course, we use testing in the assessment of existing roads and the redesign and rehabilitation of them if they have failed.”

Tests can vary a lot in their complexity

The tests can vary a lot in their complexity says Dave. “With soil testing there’s a wide range of tests, you can progress onto more technical testing like the shear box test.”

“Shear box testing is about determining the shearing characteristics of a material – basically a measure of cohesion and friction angle. Often the client will want multiple tests done on a single sample – one of those tests might involve destruction of the sample, so you have to talk to the client about the best approach, and confirm with them before testing commences.

“Sometimes you can get a sample that’s requires some thinking about or is not the norm,” Dave says. “Because the one sample could have been cored from depth, and it could cost thousands to obtain a second sample, if even possible.”

Sheldon says that people with NZDE qualifications or similar do a wide range of work at Opus.

NZDE graduates are not limited to technical roles

“The interesting thing with NZDEs is that, depending on the quality of the person, they are not limited to technical roles – they could easily do my management role. They are not limited by their technical knowledge – it’s more a limitation of what they are prepared to commit to.

“The person who led the pavements group at Opus had an NZCE. He became the leader of the pavements group, leading people with PhDs, just because he had the right approach, he was a good manager and developed strong technical skills too.”

As a research and testing centre, Opus employs people with a wide range of different technical and scientific backgrounds at Petone, and that’s one of the things Dave appreciates about working there.  “It’s great to have mathematicians and statisticians and people with other skills available to support the technical staff, he says.”

“It’s the kind of environment where people help and share their knowledge,” says Dave. “It’s a research and testing place – we are trying to make the world better.”

And while the NZDE qualification is all Dave requires for his current role, he is able to obtain subjects with part-time study towards the BEngTech qualification.

“Every day is a chance to learn,” he says.

Our thanks to Dave and Sheldon for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

October 2017