Against the tide

In Short Story March 20245 MinutesBy Gavin MyersApril 20, 2024

It may sound negative, but 39-year-old Shannon de Vos is almost an anomaly as far as modern-day Kiwi career ambition goes. News reports regularly carry stories of Kiwis seeking greener pastures over the ditch, leaving our own already struggling labour market short of all that local talent it so desperately needs. Shannon’s a Kiwi who’s done things the other way around.

He was born in New Zealand but raised for much of his childhood and teenage years in the coastal regions of Perth. There, it was the Royal Australian Air Force’s jets flying overhead that got his attention – RAAF Base Pearce being located just to the city’s north.

“I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot. I worked towards that and did the pre-aptitude for the RAAF at 16, but I was already two inches too tall for the 6ft height limit,” he says.

Shannon’s’ working life over in Australia included making his way up in the housing industry and doing earthmoving, or ‘final trim’, with a Komatsu front-end loader. This helped him refine his feel for the operation of machinery.

“You need to get something level without being able to see anything … you can feel so much through hydraulics,” he says.

Following that but remaining in the housing industry, Shannon was tasked with piloting a smaller digger and a 15-speed, 600hp Sterling.

“That was an experience. I’d had my licence for a while because I needed a truck licence to drive the front-end loader on the road, but I hadn’t driven trucks. Yeah, it was a different world having to jump into a truck.”

Life’s ups and downs being what they are, eight years ago Shannon returned to New Zealand for a fresh start. “My uncle saw where I was at that stage of life and said I should try moving back to NZ. He offered me a job in his electrical and powder-coating business in Whakatane. So I hopped off the plane and had a place to live and a job.”

After about five years, Shannon needed to get out on his own again. He worked on a subdivision in Papamoa, but the long hours and a two-hour commute meant this was only a brief entry on his CV. But, it was not all for nothing.

“I’d pass Grant Farms [Whakatane-based earthmoving and cartage contractor] every day, so one day, I cold-canvassed them, dropped off my resume, and got a job. I hadn’t been on machines for about six years, but it’s like riding a bike. And it was different work, ag work – drain cleaning, river work, stuff like that.”

The job also included some time behind the wheel of a Western Star bulky.

“I do prefer driving, especially if it’s for a good company,” Shannon says. “Like MSL, everyone is happy and Dave’s a genuine bloke.”

Having left his job with Grant Farms and about to head back to Australia for a holiday, Shannon saw an ad on Facebook for a hook truck driver at MSL. “I thought, I’ve never driven a hook truck, but I’ve driven trucks, it can’t be that hard … so I applied and went for the interview. Dave and Michaela [Watkins, office manager] were aware I was going on holiday, but Michaela rang me back that night and said I had the job. I had my holiday, and came back to a new job.”

Now nearly a year later and happily part of the MSL family, Shannon reckons he made the right move all those years ago.

“I’ve got mates going to Australia to find work, but there’s work in New Zealand if you’re willing to do it. My younger brother and sister are still in Perth, and I’m trying to get them to move over, too.”