I completed my Civil Engineering degree at Monash University. I started working as a graduate, then decided to do a Masters and my MBA part time. I’m not exactly sure why, but I really wanted to progress and so I thought I would do something to help me along. I was a traffic engineer from graduating with Grogan Richards, until they were bought by Cardno, for a total of thirteen years. It was only last year that I decided to make a move. But there was a lot of really fantastic project experience and people there. I couldn’t have done it without all of them.
The move I guess, was prompted by ambition from the beginning. I sort of got to a point where I wasn’t sure what was next. The opportunity to become part of a private company was probably something I couldn’t refuse. Thirteen years is a long time in one place. I thought, ‘Well, this is the opportunity and I need to take it now.’
I chose engineering because I liked maths and physics. I found traffic engineering interesting and I received a graduate job opportunity. I also did a short stint of work experience in the industry. I think that was really good, to be able to get my foot in the door and put it on my resume.
To progress, firstly, get involved. I was always keen to do not only the engineering work, but if there was a ‘marketing committee’ or a ‘HR committee’, I always put my hand up. I was interested, but I also wanted to show that I was more well rounded.
Secondly, networking. Meeting new people, establishing connections. Getting your face out in the industry. Often it’s difficult when you don’t know anyone in the room. But you just have to say ‘Stuff it, I’m going in,’ and just start talking to someone. It’s really just taking that first step. Don’t wait ten years before you do it.
Thirdly, attention to detail in terms of technical expertise. You want to be the engineer that one of the more senior engineers wants to have on their team. You need to be able to learn from your mistakes. Present work to them that has been checked properly; not only in design and engineering, but also in the way it is being presented to the client.
Often, you plan your day with appointments, which generally don’t move, but in the spare time, generally I’ll have a team meetings. Not every day, but it’s important to understand what everyone’s workload is and share new projects and deadlines. I have an internal meetings with the other director. He and I might discuss the more operational side of the business; what we need to achieve for the week, new opportunities, invoicing or staffing. On a project level there’s emails, phone calls, following up submissions, making sure projects are running the way we want them to.
There are seven of us, including fellow director James and myself. We’ve grown quickly. In July, when I started, it was the two of us and we were doing everything. We decided it wasn’t really going to go anywhere if we didn’t start delegating. We employed people to help us with the work load.
Often, with regards to stakeholders, there could be six different disciplines in a meeting. The most important thing is to know who your client is. You need to make sure from the get-go that it’s clear what you think the critical issues are, how you might deliver a solution and flagging anything that might cause a road hump. I always think it’s good to talk to the authorities early on in the game, because often you do all this work and submit it and Vicroads might say ‘Oh well, we don’t support this.’
Communication and making sure the right people are informed, is key. I think picking up the phone is just as important as an email, because sometimes things can be misconstrued in text. In our business, we like to have the conversation or discussion and follow up as needed.
One of the challenges in working on a greenfield site, is that those councils may not have come across those types of projects as often as an inner city council. Everyone is working and learning together. People may be a little uncertain about what they are about to approve. It’s really important to take them along for the ride. Again, it goes back to getting in touch with council earlier and building the relationship and the communication.
In built up areas, the challenges can be the infrastructure that is already there and meeting competing demands. Often if you work on a site and you find out that the next door neighbour is also developing, you have clashes with competing interest. There are a lot of different authorities that need to be brought in to play; Yarra Trams, Vicroads, local council… Often is hard to get everybody in the same room at the same time.
Trams are Melbourne’s obvious difference. Vicroads have developed a lot of strategies around trams, and will often say ‘Well you can’t have this because of the tram priority route.’ It’s included in their thinking. I think because we’re repeatedly voted the most liveable city in the world, the authorities are perhaps a little bit more sensitive to what is acceptable; in terms of operations, design, aesthetics, people moving, safety, public transport and sustainability. Oh, and hook turns!
More recently, sustainability has become a larger part of our designs. Many councils have new local policies to reduce parking, but it also depends on feasibility. We can have no parking, but if apartments aren’t going to sell, then no one’s going to build them. It’s a real balance between housing diversity and acknowledging that there are some activity centres or precinct centres, which shouldn’t have parking. We have an office in Bairnsdale where our approach is completely different. We can’t say ‘…everyone in Regional Victoria, should just get on the train and ride their bike around town.’ You can’t take away amenity and tradition. Tradition can change over time but there are fundamental things, which without the access, aren’t going to work.
I think there’s a move away from cars in the city, but you need to be commercial about what’s going to work. The public transport system has a long way to go and a lot of competing demands. The whole discussion around East West Link and whether it was necessary or not, is political as much as anything. I think eventually at some point it’s necessary, however I think the upgrades to Melbourne Metro are a really good solution; reducing car dependence in the inner city, good for tourism, good for students, good for inner city living.
SALT stands for the core values of the company. We find that if we’re always thinking of those, then it doesn’t matter when someone approaches us, we’re always willing to help. Service, Approachability, Loyalty and Transparency. Hopefully SALT’s memorable. Short and sweet. Or salty.
Believe in yourself. Don’t let a situation or an isolated event keep you back. There’s always going to be challenges, whether you’re male or female. Put yourself out there and put your hand up.
I think it’s important to enjoy life. When you have other hobbies or interests it helps take your mind off work and that is really important. Otherwise, you start thinking too much about what you’re doing. I try to make appointments after work hours with family and friends, so you don’t get to the end of the day and you’re still in the office at 8:00 o’clock. And get enough sleep too!
My mother always told me ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I’ve lived by that.
Meeting Jo for our interview at her East Melbourne office, she couldn’t be more welcoming. She spoke on the steps to her personal success and what it takes to be a young, personable and determined female in her industry. Her frank, smart and positive attitude towards work is something to aspire too. Passionate about Melbourne’s traffic engineering and transport planning, she has had plenty of experience and diverse knowledge on the subject. We hope you enjoyed her interview.