These engineers are making a difference in the profession through volunteering — and debunking more than a few myths in the process.
Volunteers make no less worthy a contribution to the aims and activities of Engineers Australia than its employees, with thousands of people lending their time and energy to projects across the country and abroad.
The same is true for volunteers at any organisation, whether that be in community development, political activism or bilateral relations.
Engineers Australia member Nicole Brown MIEAust and Engineers Australia Fellow and Executive engineer Grant Scott FIEAust CPEng EngExec are well familiar with the benefits of volunteering with Engineers Australia and for other noteworthy causes.
The former led an international consortium of volunteers to encourage greater uptake of STEM by young female engineers. The latter is driving positive change within the engineering institution by championing a people-centric focus.
Both exercise a healthy appreciation for the virtue and value of volunteering in the field of engineering.
Volunteering for good
Brown, who is a Structural Engineer at AECOM, began volunteering after high school, and has since run up an impressive list of entrepreneurial and leadership achievements, including being chosen for the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme.
“Volunteering has always been part of my life,” she told create. “It creates opportunities you wouldn’t get in your day-to-day life.”
In particular, she is the former CEO of Robogals, a global organisation of volunteers committed to fostering gender equity in fields such as engineering and technology.
A structural engineer by training, Brown had, by her own admission, a “very limited” knowledge of robotics upon joining the organisation. But soon, she was helping to facilitate workshops designed to “show young girls what opportunities were possible through engineering” as part of her local chapter, based out of the University of Melbourne.
“I got hooked,” she said. And before long, she was asked to nominate for chief executive.
“I was 20 at the time, and didn’t particularly know anything about running an organisation, reporting to a board of directors, or anything like that,” she said. “But I knew that if I didn’t say yes to the opportunity, I would regret it.”
In her time at the helm, she and her team expanded the organisation’s global reach from seven to 13 countries. Then, after four years in the top job, Brown knew the moment had come for fresh eyes.
“The world is ever changing,” she said. “When someone suggests a new idea, although it might not have been the right thing to do a few years ago, it might be the right thing to do now.
“Sometimes, that means taking a fresh perspective by reassessing your viewpoint on something. But for me, it meant moving on to focus purely on my engineering role and entrusting another to lead the organisation and take it to the next level.”
Brown now volunteers her time with Engineers Australia, sitting on a number of committees, including the Young Engineers Australia National Committee (YEANC), of which she is the chair.
“We aim to be the voice of young engineers and provide them the opportunity to contribute to important conversations such as climate change, the evolution of the workplace or establishing professional development opportunities,” she said. “We support national CPD events and run networking events such as pub trivia nights, leadership breakfasts and much more.
“I want young engineers to feel heard and be in control of what our future holds.”
Scott is Chair of Engineers Australia’s Chemical College, past President of Engineers Australia’s Victorian Division Committee, and a founding director of mineral exploration and development company Ki Resources.
As it has for Brown, his volunteer work for Engineers Australia has enabled him to have a voice in shaping conversations within the institution for the better.
“Volunteering allows you to get very involved in reshaping how [ideas move] into the broader community,” he said. “You can actually make a difference.”
The American-born Scott has spent the past 30 years in Australia building a global career across petroleum engineering, natural resources, environmental management, venture capital and innovation commercialisation sectors.
As a member of National Congress, the body that elects directors to the Engineers Australia board, he has endeavoured to inject a broader diversity of skills and experience, including the COO of PwC and even a NSW Australian of the Year.
He believes the reticence some people hold towards volunteering is due to a lack of understanding about what it entails.
“One of the myths is that it takes a lot of time,” he said, and doesn’t necessarily contribute anything meaningful. But in his eyes, “you get out double what you put in”.
Both engineers concur that volunteering involves much more than sitting in on meetings and planning events.
“Volunteering is volunteering,” Brown said. “By definition, you’re not paid. But there’s so much you can get out of it.
“You have the opportunity to try new ideas and different ways of thinking, learn how to communicate in a range of formats, work with a team towards deadlines, and meet people who think differently to achieve a common goal.”
Another myth about volunteering is the perception that it is “incompatible” with one’s paid employment, she added.
Even if someone volunteers in a separate field from their paid work, they’ll still develop valuable and transferable skills of use across disciplines and aspects of life.
“From teamwork to communication to leadership; like understanding how teams work and working with people with different skill sets, there are always things we can learn from volunteering,” she said.
Nominations are open for a range of volunteer roles across Engineers Australia until 22 July. Use the links below to learn more about:
- Division Committees and College Boards elections
- Officer Bearer positions
- Engineers Australia’s Board of Directors nominations
Engineering Education Australia also offers a workshop for engineers looking to improve their chance of securing a board or committee position. Learn more here.