For those wanting to make the most of their slice of rural Taranaki lifestyle, Primo's Matthew Harrison is living the dream.

At the start of our interview he notes he’s already been home at lunchtime to do work.

“You couldn't do that in any of the cities you'd spend two hours driving home," he says.

Primo is an internet service provider that connects Taranaki, offering the internet to every household regardless of location. The company epitomises the tech sector in Taranaki - customer friendly and with a can-do attitude.
Primo started in 2006 as a local solution to rural broadband connectivity problems. Fast forward to 2022 and Primo employs 26 skilled people across four business areas including a site team, installers, the help desk and sales, and standard business support.

Image caption: From left, Dianne Holton, Jason Holton (Primo’s operations manager), with Matt Harrison (founder and “Top Dog”) and Jasmine Harrison, who is in charge of community sponsorships and activities.

Who are Primo looking for?

Installers and the site builders are the most challenging positions to fill because they work outdoors sometimes in remote locations. These roles require a range of skills from concreting to cable laying, driving all-terrain vehicles to IT and customer relationship skills. It is challenging skill set to find, so Primo hires for attitude, and an interest in technology, even if the person has no formal experience or qualifications.

Kelly Ellis, Primo's "Hunter Gatherer," says, "It's often what [tech work] the person does at home [that gives you] a sense of what they're capable of and how that can translate into working here".

What makes working at Primo special?

Primo offers opportunities for people who want to build a career in technology. Most of the team leaders started in junior roles but as Matthew says: "as we have grown, they have grown".

Staff benefit from one-on-one mentoring and professional development, but the management team recognises people won’t stay there forever. Kelly says the company loves seeing its people developing and taking on other challenges to move on up in their IT career.

Primo goes the extra mile to make itself a great place to work.

The goal is to keep people in Taranaki, retain staff and grow the company, so a positive workplace culture is essential.

Staff benefits include:

  • Free home broadband and health insurance
  • An "in-office" games room
  • Celebrated work anniversaries, personalised to them.
  • Two extra annual leave days over and above, which can be rolled over or cashed out. Just for when they have something special to do.

And, as Matthew says, it's the region that makes the difference:

"Other providers are envious of what we do, they can offer the same role, but they don't have the backyard we have!"

A fine blend of skills

Primo’s installers are the swiss army knives of tradies.

They need an uncommon blend of practical trade skills, computer geekery, and a talent for customer service. In any day’s work, they’ll be fitting antennas onto roofs, running cables under, over and through houses to connect them to a router, and taking the customers through how it all works.

No-one person has all those skills, so Primo makes a point of filling in the gaps. Installer James Crofskey is a good case in point.

Staff often use their skills from other sectors and as these case studies show, bringing a wide range of experience to the roles.

James, 30, had 10 years’ experience working as a trade assistant for a couple of electricians in his hometown of Ōpunakē, and then Bell Block. He learned pretty much all there is to know about wiring up a house, snaking cables through buildings, and keeping everything, and everyone, safe. So he ticked a lot of the boxes for being a Primo installer.

But computer networking? Nope, that was all new to him.

On the other hand, he had oodles of people skills he picked up working as a kid after school at a Four Square in Ōpunakē.

He’s also got plenty of initiative. Someone told him there was a job going for an electrician’s assistant in the town, but they weren’t sure who it was. So James knocked on every door on his street till he found the sparky he was looking for.

When the installer job came up at Primo a couple of years ago, he was ready for a change.

“I had learned pretty much all I needed to know about electricity. I decided if I wasn’t going to do that anymore, what was something else I could do that everybody’s going to need every day? And I thought – data!”

But computers had never been a big part of his working life so James needed some upskilling in areas such as how to get the best wireless signal, and how to configure each router in the customers’ homes.

“The data skills were just a new layer on top of my job skills, and now network skills are right up my alley!”

Kelly was one of the Primo team who interviewed James and says they saw his potential right away.

“You can’t get an off-the-shelf installer who comes with all the skills that we need. In James’ case, it was his electrical skills and his customer service history that sold us on him. A big part of the job is working with people at their homes and talking to them about what you’re doing and why.”

The only mistake James made at his job interview was not looking at the staff photos on the Primo website. If he had, he’d have noticed beards aren’t a rarity there. As part of his pre-interview tidy-up he shaved his off major-sized beard and got rid of his magnificent mullet.

“Then I saw everyone else had big beards and I was like, ‘Damn!”

James says working for a bigger company has been a good change after being 50 percent of two-man businesses for many years.

“There are a lot more people to learn from and work alongside, and the firm’s infrastructure is amazing. I fit in really well and I just love it.

“Being able to go all around the mountain, see the best views, meet cool people, it’s priceless. Primo for life!”

For Kelly, James’s key skills are being a conscientious worker and being great with people.

“Our customers love him, he always gets his name mentioned in the customer surveys.”

And he’s not crediting Primo with it but he’s also met the love of his life, the lovely Rhiannon.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Addison Voyce has come a long way to install wireless broadband in Taranaki

He grew up in the Rocky Mountains in a small town called Canmore in Alberta, Canada which is why his official job title at Primo is the Connection Canuck.

It was an outdoorsy upbringing. His dad was a heli-skiing guide, and Addison was a sporty kid playing ice hockey, American football, and basketball.

After high school, he could have used his sporting skills to further his education, but he decided to go travelling instead.

“Between the age of 19 and 25 I visited about 45 countries. That included a year in Brighton in England, and I worked in bars and travelled through Europe.”

He returned to Canada to live on Salt Spring Island near Vancouver for 10 years.

“It’s a beautiful little gem on the west coast of Canada. I was a firefighter, and I worked in bars and restaurants there.”

It’s where he met his partner Jess who was from New Plymouth. It was a good match. He had a few trades skills, and she is, according to Addison, a financial genius (Jess is currently a mortgage broker in New Plymouth). They bought some properties there and were quite happy leasing them out until they got an offer too good to pass up.

So they sold and decided to move to New Plymouth for a bit. Addison got some work in construction and helped his father-in-law renovate his house. They also bought a commercial property, but COVID-19 stepped in to scuttle a few of their plans.

This led to Addison getting a short-term job in a factory, where he quickly realised being a sidekick to a robot was pretty monotonous for eight hours a day.

When an installer job came up at Primo in September 2020, he leaped at it. He had done some data cabling work in Canada, and the home reno work meant he knew his way under, over, and through houses, which is a handy skill when getting cables from the antenna to the Wi-Fi router.

The one skill he didn’t have was wireless networking experience.

“I’ve had to learn how radio signals work.”

“I just did a Mikrotik course on wireless routers. It was a lot, not having a background in that sort of thing. But it all starts to make sense and it’s good to know.”

His initial upskilling came from Primo’s Shaun du Plessis who is in charge of the installer team. When Addison went out on his first solo job, things went pretty well.

“I don’t think I called Shaun for help on the first job. But I probably called him every single job after that for about three months!”

Apart from the technical issues of finding the best signal and getting cabling to a router, it can mean working in some pretty wild environments and isn’t for the faint of heart.

“Wind can be a beast”, he laughs. “And then there’s the occasional rain.”

“When you’re trying to get a signal and it’s really windy on the roof, that can be tricky!”

The other skill set every installer needs is good old-fashioned people skills for communicating with a wide range of customers.

Luckily that’s where Addison’s hospitality background and associated customer service skills come in handy.

“It’s just a job with a lot of variety!”