Elisha Harris left a big company to start her own engineering consultancy. Three-and-a-half years on, the risk has paid off.
A young family and a partner in the demanding defence industry pushed structural engineer Elisha Harris to look for new career options.
“Our movement was governed very heavily by what he did,” she told create.
“I was getting frustrated by a number of different things.”
That frustration was the encouragement she needed to consider options outside the large engineering firm for which she worked at the time. Starting her own business was an intimidating prospect, but having considered the idea for a few years already, she decided it was a risk worth taking.
“Our biggest challenge was taking the leap,” she said.
“It’s always the fear of what’s going to happen. What happens if we don’t get any work?”
Three-and-a-half years later, that business, Harris Kmon Solutions, is a thriving engineering and project management consultancy headquartered in Darwin, with branches in Cairns and Geelong.
“Working in the smaller centres, it means you need to be more of a generalist,” she said.
“What you need to be able to do is service the clients that walk in the door with their day-to-day general engineering challenges.”
It has also taken the company to places Harris might not otherwise have found herself, such as projects in the Torres Strait and with remote Aboriginal communities, as well as in East Timor.
“Sometimes you’re going places you’ve never heard of before,” she said.
“You jump in your little plane and land on the ground and get your work done and jump back on the plane and come back into Darwin.”
Adding a law degree to her engineering PhD affirmed her broad skillset — as did attaining Chartered status with Engineers Australia.
“Particularly when you’re in a small business,” she said.
“When you don’t have the large corporate organisation behind you, it gives you that stamp of approval and that added credibility of your skills and your competency.”
She began the process while studying oil and gas law.
“I was on maternity leave not long after my third child had been born,” she said. Spending long hours feeding a new baby and listening to lecture material she already knew from her engineering degree, her mind looked for other challenges.
“I just basically started writing my competency claim while I was sitting,” she said.
3 tips for success
1. Technical skills are important, but you can’t forget soft skills — the communication, the general human relationship stuff that goes towards dealing with clients and team members.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just make sure you listen to the answers, so you don’t have to ask them again.
3. When someone takes the time to explain something to you thoroughly, you need to take the time to listen and understand so that you can develop your own career.
This article originally appeared as “Keystone: Elisha Harris” in the April 2019 issue of create magazine.
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