Out of Chartered Civil Engineer Louise Adams’s core passions, increasing the future engineer pipeline ranks among the most important.
The Chief Operating Officer of Aurecon, who recently clinched the Sir John Holland Civil Engineer of the Year Award 2023 at Engineers Australia’s 2022 Recognition Awards, says the engineering skills shortage is magnified by the enormity of work required to transition infrastructure in the pursuit of net zero.
Adams has therefore committed to a multi-pronged approach to build up the workforce, including recruiting young talent.
“At Aurecon, we engage with a lot of universities around creating scholarships for people to study engineering as well as supporting people who are in engineering,” she says.
As a member of the Consult Australia Champions of Change Group, Adams strives to spark an interest in engineering among students.
“We run a lot of focus groups to support not-for-profit entities working with primary and secondary schools to build awareness of engineering,” she says.
Through industry summits and roundtables, Adams is at the forefront of industry discussions about skill supply and demand.
This includes working on short-term solutions to fill the engineer pipeline with skilled migrants – a talent pool which needs replenishing post-COVID-19.
“Through Consult Australia, we advocate to the government to make migration easier so we can get more engineering skills into the critical skills narrative for the country, and [help] people to get the necessary credentials to come over and work as engineers,” she says.
As a Board member of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Adams is also figuring out how to make visas more appealing to engineers who come to Australia to work, including unlocking the right opportunities.
“Often they end up in non-engineering related fields due to bias in recruitment processes, or their credentials aren’t recognised,” says Adams. “So I do a fair bit of advocacy work within Aurecon and the broader industry to find solutions around that as well.”
Building new skills
As we enter the ‘age of the engineer’ as Adams likes to call it, building up the engineering workforce has never been more important.
“The world is facing really complex challenges, including the climate crisis, increasing populations, the expansion of cities, and food, energy and water security,” she says.
While technical skills are important, Adams concedes consulting engineers have “sat back” in the past as the end recipients of work. Now, another engineering skill set is rising to prominence.
“At Aurecon [we’ve] pushed additional skills around being able to tell stories, engage with clients, and have a seat at the table around the decision making of what we’re going to invest in from an infrastructure perspective,” she says.
This skillset is vital when it comes to the transition to clean energy.
“There is existing infrastructure which already contains [significant] sunk carbon and financial investment,” says Adams.
The easy answer might be to abandon this infrastructure for something new. But engineers should step out of their comfort zone to help the owners of these assets look at the opportunity through a different lens.
“Engineers can [question] whether we can make the most of the infrastructure we’ve got by using it a bit differently as part of this transition, so we’re not wasting a heap of money and ending up with stranded assets,” she says.
Women in STEM
As one of Australia’s most prominent female engineers, Adams aims to be a visible role model to young women interested in engineering through her work with the Champions of Change group.
“Part of that role model responsibility is [also] providing mentoring services and support to women, and having conversations around how they can navigate their careers,” she says.
On the other end of the scale, Adams also strives to make engineering workplaces more attractive to women.
“A lot of that work is around providing equal parental leave policies, looking at flexibility, and removing bias from promotions, recruitment and reward processes,” she says.
“Then really looking at workplace cultures and making sure we create [environments] that are far more inclusive.”
While Adams says these initiatives are focused on designing workplaces that allow women to fulfil their potential, they provide an opportunity for anyone to thrive.
“The benefits [of these policies] that our men relay back to us are just as important,” she adds.
A strong alliance
Strengthening the engineering workforce and the industry’s capability requires collaboration between different entities. Aurecon’s long-standing relationship with Engineers Australia is a case in point.
“Many of our people are members or even fellows of Engineers Australia,” says Adams. “They also like to get involved in Engineers Australia’s multiple discussions, forums, panels and events, using the Engineers Australia platform for professional development.”
It’s a relationship that both parties find valuable and beneficial.
“We’ll say ‘at Aurecon this is what we’re seeing play out in industry – whether trends around our client’s climate transition efforts or the events playing out around the flooding up and down the east coast,” she says.
“This can then help Engineers Australia shape some of the professional development or conversations they have with the broader industry and government.”
On the flip side, Aurecon gets research and data reports from Engineers Australia that help the organisation navigate the business to move forward.
“That can be technical themes, what the government is saying about migration, or how it views the engineering skills base,” says Adams.
“It’s collaborative knowledge sharing for the betterment of the profession and industries.”