Four years ago now I made the move from Lendlease and joined Icon. I have since had the opportunity to work with their Japanese parent company Kajima and develop their business here, specifically in the health, university and government sectors. It mostly appealed to me as the company’s history in these sectors were largely unformed and the greatest gift of the role – a blank piece of paper! It was up to me to guide and strategise with the founding and national directors of Icon, together with Kajima’s Managing Director. The role filled me with excitement and it led us to the merge with Cockram Construction, so the New Icon is now fully diversified. I’ve loved every moment.
One thing I love about Kajima at Icon, more than anything is their R&D. I’ve always loved the potential R&D brings to our industry, but it often remains potential and not a reality on many of our projects. Kajima have a 200 engineer strong team at a research and development institute in six locations the size of university campuses. $100m a year invested purely in R&D. They develop technologies, systems, proprietary items – leading edge – and all a part of my role to introduce these to Australia.
My studies included civil engineering and Japanese (Bachelor of Engineering and A Bachelor of Arts and International Studies majoring in Japanese), at UTS in Sydney. I chose it because it was a very practical course. A six-year course including engineering, language, a year at Tokyo Institute of Technology Japan studying earthquake engineering and work within the industry.
Did you know the University of Technology Sydney only had male toilets when it was built in the ‘70s because it was built as a technical institute and it wasn’t envisaged that women would go to a technical institute? When it became the UTS and women attended, they had to retrofit female bathrooms on every second level. The progress we’ve made as an industry towards diversity in the workplace is fantastic. Much like R&D – there is still more we can do.
I worked as soon as I could. The first semester of second year I started six months full time with Connell Wagner (now Aurecon). At that stage as a graduate with one year under my belt I knew nothing. I was cold calling every engineering firm in Sydney, trying to get some work and I was stoked that they gave me a job. I continued there for the rest of my course a mixture of full-time and part time.
One of the most exciting opportunities I experienced at Lend Lease was putting my hand up to go to a Tsunami reconstruction project in Sri Lanka. They were sending resources over to help the rebuilding in a partnership project with UN Habitat, Red Cross, The World Bank, IFRC and the Sri Lankan Government. I was on the ACT Prison at that stage and covering thirteen out of the fifteen trade packages. They didn’t have to let me go when my name came up, but they said, ‘You’ve earnt the right to choose for yourself’, so they offered it to me then proceeded to try and talk me out of it… But my mind was already on that plane! It was a fantastic 12 months and an irreplaceable experience by many measures. It was an opportunity I thought I wouldn’t have until I retired.
My early intention was to return to being a design engineer, but I just loved construction so much. I felt at home straight away. I think a lot of it is about the attitude you bring to work. My foreman and I could have butted heads along the way, and we did very occasionally, but all-in-all I was there to learn from him and I sure did learn a lot! Fortunately for me too we became life-long friends. It was the same with the subbies. I treat them with respect – they are the specialists in what they do after all. I wasn’t there to play boss, that simply would not work. Subbies may not be in the position of making the final decision, but if you aren’t listening to all the solutions and getting their specialist recommendations, then you’re probably missing out on the best solution and not doing the right thing by the Client, the project, yourself or the Company.
What I have loved seeing since is so many more females in site based roles. And then in the health sectors, many of the managers and team members are women. Whether they come from a health, design, construction or an engineering background, there are many who form the project management team on major health projects. It’s fabulous. I’m still in touch with many from the Royal Children’s Hospital and Bendigo Hospital Projects from all roles and sides of the team.
It was interesting for me with three brothers. It never really daunted me going into engineering. I had to check with my physics teacher – I didn’t know what engineering was, but I asked my physics teacher if he thought I could do it. He said ‘Yes’. That was enough for me.
My advice to young men and women is to take initiative. I think that’s where a lot of opportunity comes from. Standing up and saying ‘Yeah I can do that’, even if you’re not sure you can. Give it a go and use the supports around you. I’ve said yes to many things, I wasn’t sure how to do them all, but I’ve wanted to give them a go. It’s a real opportunity to learn about yourself as well. I like the idea of a balance, but it’s still something I’m working on. If I’m not living a balanced lifestyle I at least try manage the extent to which I’m ‘unbalanced’!
I do meditation and karate, which are both a fantastic release from work. With the deadlines it’s inevitable that you’re going to push yourself sometimes. Going into the industry I believed I’d do a ‘couple of hard years, earn my stripes and it’ll get easier’… The truth is I love being challenged and soon realised I wasn’t one to seek out the easier project’s roles.
You can be your biggest critic and your harshest critic, so go easy on yourself too. Punishment isn’t necessarily productive. So try and be productive in how you apply yourself.
My mother has always been a strong example to me. Not just in the incredible support she is for our family, but by always being active in the community, placing importance on friendship and kindness towards people without support. She has that broader view and an incredible heart to match. I’ve always been reminded of what a strong women is, through her. She’s always encouraged me to be my best. Given it’s a lifetime pursuit, it’s nice to have someone like her to look to.
We met Emily in Melbourne before her move to Sydney, excited as ever to meet a woman who has forged a path in big construction and made a true name for herself. Emily has found her niche and when you experience that passion and fulfillment in your professional life, it can be very satisfying and edifying. We wish Emily all the best for her endeavors in Sydney and know that her contribution to the industry is going to long and impactful. J & D x