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Civil Engineer, Aurecon; Diversity & Inclusion Advocate
When Trang Pham graduated from University of Queensland 2014, she walked straight into a full-time job – but not as an engineer.
With a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) and a Bachelor of Business Management (Marketing), she took up a role as assistant store manager at design and stationary retailer kikki.K, where she had worked part time during her studies. Pham described it as one of the best career moves she could have made.
“When I graduated, the options were mostly fly-in fly-out jobs or very design-heavy roles, and that wasn’t why I wanted to be an engineer,” said Pham, who now works as a civil engineer in the built environment unit of Aurecon in Brisbane.
“In retail, I was trained to find out what the customer wants and needs, and to serve that. Jumping into management straight out of university, I learnt time management, delegation, HR, communication. It set me up to really focus on the human experience.”
“You can’t be what you can’t see, so if I can represent not only women, but also people of colour in engineering, and speak up for change, why wouldn’t I?”
The human experience remains a strong focus for Pham in her work at Aurecon and in her role as chair of Women in Engineering Queensland. A diversity and inclusion advocate, she believes a broader representation of society within engineering can only strengthen the industry and improve design outcomes.
“Representation is really important,” said Pham, who is also is the immediate past chair of Young Engineers Australia Queensland.
“It was really tough going through university and through industry and not seeing a lot of people like me, and how we can succeed. You can’t be what you can’t see, so if I can represent not only women, but also people of colour in engineering, and speak up for change, why wouldn’t I? It’s my biggest motivator.”
Pham said Women in Engineering provides a valuable platform for discussion and change. As an example, she points to an upcoming Women in Engineering event that poses the question: Do we need male champions of change?
“I think that we need everybody on board to create change, but do we need to put [men] on a pedestal for just doing the right thing?” Pham said.
“I do believe that male engagement is key to changing culture, however, and I would love to hear men’s perspective on why they think things need to change.”
Pham is an advocate for young engineering professionals. She believes their input in vital in shaping the industry – and the world – of tomorrow.
“The voice of young engineers is really important because we’re talking about our future,” she said.
“I think a lot of boards, for example, could do with more young, experienced voices at the table.”
She also has firm views on industry issues such as offshoring.
“There is often tension between Australian teams and those they offshore work to, particularly those with a different culture,” Pham said.
“There is a tendency for Australian teams to push Western ideals into a culture that is not their own. I think cultural awareness training can be valuable if you want to get the best out of your teams. Other cultures and people will have different ways to do things that reach the same end result and we need to trust in that rather than pushing a western way of working.”
Prior to joining Aureon in 2018, Pham worked as an engineer at Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads. She said a desire to create positive change inspired her engineering career path.
“I am the daughter of immigrants – refugees of the Vietnam War – and they wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” Trang said.
“Engineering seemed the most tangible. You can create change for a lot more people. You’re building communities, you’re getting people from A to B. To me, this is such an appealing part of engineering.”
Pham combined her engineering degree with marketing because of her interest in psychology.
“One of my favourite things was understanding how people reacted and how the psychology works behind services and products,” she said.
“The more I went through my degree, the more I could see the synergy between engineering and marketing. In engineering, we design for communities but, at university, there wasn’t much of a focus on the human aspect. Marketing helped me to bring more of that understanding into my engineering degree.”