Written by Jessica Kahl, Civil Engineer in Resources and Manufacturing and Glen Heyward, Manager of Aurecon’s Townsville office
Combine over 350 students in engineering and information technology, an aircraft hangar at Townsville Airport, 50 industry mentors and an excitement about what the future holds for sustainability, and what do you get? The James Cook University Technology Design Sprint!
Aurecon is a proud sponsor of the Technology Design sprint which provides a learning environment for students to solve real-world business challenges, whilst allowing students to be mentored by subject matter experts (SMEs).
The two-day long event held from 8 - 9 October 2018, run by JCU and Queensland Airports Limited (QAL), engaged students in design thinking and problem-solving frameworks to achieve a commercial solution to innovation and sustainability challenges.
Two passionate engineers from Aurecon's Brisbane and Townsville offices volunteered our time to collaborate with the students, provide insights into markets and business delivery, as well as advising about what an Aurecon career could look like.
The students had clear aspirations for Australia to be the global hub for renewable energy and innovation, and to use the skills they are acquiring through their degree to make a real difference to the world, by ‘Bringing ideas to life’. Incorporating advice from their mentors, the students began to bounce ideas and research the applications of their sustainable concepts. They also employed their problem solving and design thinking skills to explore business problems from electronics waste, conserving energy on airfields, recycled water and pumped hydro schemes.
At the same time, they came to terms with the massive disruptive impact digital technologies are having on business models, supply chains and customer behaviours. They realised that integrating a technology or design isn't a one size fits all solution – they needed to look at current business strategies and successful case studies where a solution was resolved because of a growing need.
Jessica Kahl, Civil Engineer in Resources and Manufacturing, shared her career journey with the students. She began at Aurecon as an engineering student in the Marine Structures team and was fortunate to be involved in several key exemplar projects, including the delivery of the Barangaroo Ferry Terminal in Sydney's Circular Quay. She has worked in regional locations such as Gladstone and Bowen, and has gained collaborative skills, on-site experience and client facing exposure.
Jessica observed that both the engineering and IT students were very enthusiastic about being involved in the future of design, delivery and digital, and saw Aurecon as a leading firm in creating sustainable outcomes.
Her group tackled challenges around "how might we" create a sustainable project which increases local energy? "How might we" generate power to sustain an entire city, community and country? The participants explored various personas, their perspectives of the problem and their support for encouraging the solution. This allowed them to identify and explore their stakeholders with various thinking hats. Aurecon was impressed with the teams who collectively explored global problems and integrated their knowledge and experience from university to solve and validate sustainable outcomes.
Meanwhile, Glen Heyward, Manager of Aurecon’s Townsville office, challenged his group to use new technologies to make recycled water more widely acceptable as a drinking water source. Using the same problem-solving framework, the group explored how existing technologies solve the problem, how emerging technologies could approach the problem differently, and what the different aspects to the problem were. This led the group to consider both technological and community education solutions.
Glen shared his background in international defence and aviation infrastructure, particularly in remote and austere environments, to prompt the group to consider how different physical environments can result in very different cultural attitudes to basic living requirement such as water supply, and hence in solving tomorrow’s problems, we need to understand cultural bias of both the client and the problem solver.
We both received exceptional feedback. One student even expressed that they were inspired to think bigger about their career. It is important that our organisations continue to work together through events such as the JCU Design Sprint to ensure all students are inspired to take on more challenges and are supported to become more capable future STEM leaders.
Leading organisations such as Aurecon and Queensland Airports Limited are taking the necessary steps in recognising the value of connecting university to industry, and the benefits these relationships have on providing practical experiences to develop STEM capability.
Aurecon’s philosophy centres on building an innovative and diverse culture around sustainable economic, social and environmental impacts. Considering these criteria, our Aurecon judges decided that Team 13 was the winner of our sustainable industry prize.
Their concept involved preventing waste in businesses and university facilities by employing an app that promoted an engaged culture. Using a “leaderboard’, their application aims to incentivise users to avoid waste on a daily basis and visibly see the impact their choices make.
The idea was creative, drew on upcoming technologies, such as waste tracking, and was incredibly relevant to sustainability in our everyday lives. It meant that for every coffee you drank and for every item of waste you added to the recycling bin, you would collect 'Eco-star' points and develop sustainable habits to be a 'top eco-warrior'. We love the idea of being an eco-warrior and can't wait to see more leaders join the initiative!
The benefits of the Design Sprint for the students were obvious – they formed a stronger commitment to STEM, developed leading industry networks, and were exposed new ways of thinking, which made them better equipped with vital skills for their future success.
However, as an industry, we also learnt something: to realise our potential for innovation and sustainability in Australia, industry organisations need to attract and engage an appropriately skilled workforce – one which understands the commercial challenges, has the technical fitness to keep up with evolving practices, and the leadership to collaborate as people centric businesses.
Our businesses are competing in a global economy driven by big data, digital advances and innovation. We are seeing greater emphasis on the need for more leaders trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and a need for engagements, such as the JCU Technology Design Sprint, to promote new thinking and new capability. The opportunity to move towards an economy which engages the capability from youth to experience is one which will holistically shape an innovative, productive and sustainable network – it is right in front of us, and all we must do is respond.
The JCU Technology Design Sprint is calling on businesses, including Aurecon, to take a leading role alongside JCU, Queensland Airports, the government and the education sector to deliver STEM opportunities to Australians so that our future workforce remains competitive, innovative and prosperous. We hope that this is only the first step in creating a collaborative workforce for the future.