Navigating your career from grad to c-suite

Lucia Fernandez, Luke Morcom and Louise Adams | 14 February 2024 | 18:55

Podcast Transcript: Navigating your career from grad to c-suite

Maria Rampa: Hi I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to a brand-new season of Engineering Reimagined. What did you want to be when you grew up? It’s a classic icebreaker question and for many of us that answer might have changed a few times since we were children! No matter where your career takes you, the journey is just as important as the destination and getting valuable advice along the way can be life changing.

So, to kick off 2024, we thought we would give you a career gift! We’ve invited three Aurecon professionals, each at very different stages in their careers, to share their stories and how they have navigated the ups and downs of their professional journeys, in the hope that you will gain some valuable life lessons. Graduate Environment and Sustainability Consultant Lucia Fernandez chats with Chief Operating Officer Louise Adams and Mechanical Engineer Luke Morcom about how and why they set their career paths in motion, what they’ve learned about developing leadership skills and how they believe their roles will be changed by artificial intelligence in the future. Let’s hear what they have to say!

Lucia Fernandez: Welcome to the Engineering Reimagined podcast. My name is Lucia, and I joined as an Aurecon grad in 2022. I'm excited to be talking to both of you today to learn more about your career journey so far, and any tips that you might have on improving your professional skills no matter what career stage we are in. So I decided to study a Bachelor of Science and pursue a career in environment and sustainability because I had this class in my last few years of high school where my teachers were super inspiring, environmental systems and societies it was called. And in that class, I knew that I wanted to study climate change and sustainability and environmental management. What about you, Louise, what inspired you to pursue [your] profession and career?

Louise Adams: I can't remember a day in my life where I didn't want to be a civil engineer. I shared a passion for bridges with my grandfather. He used to travel all over the world and take photos of bridges. He was an amateur photographer. And when he and my grandma came back from their holidays, they would take the tapestry off the wall and put the slide projector out. And they would have photo after photo after photo of their trip, and the whole family would be around looking at them, and slowly they would go from being touristy photos to just being photos of bridges. And he used to tell a story from when I was quite little, maybe 5 or 6, that he put up a photo of a bridge somewhere in Southeast Asia. And there were these people living in shanty huts underneath this bridge. And I looked at him and had a beaming smile on my face and said, oh, how cool would that be to live there? And he said to me, well, you know, it's not so great because every couple of years the river floods and their houses get taken out and they're too poor to move. And I looked at him and said, what would I need to be to fix that? And he said, you'd need to be a civil engineer. And that's what I always aspired to. So, I guess it was a little bit of impact and purpose and wanting to make the world a better place. What about you, Luke?

Luke Morcom: Inherently, I think a lot of us as engineers like solving problems. That's why we get into becoming an engineer. In my early experiences, solving problems was with a box of Lego. That's where I started. And as it progressed through my life and my studies and going into my career and things like sustainability and climate change became front of mind, and I realised that becoming an engineer gave you a really tangible and practical way to make a difference on climate change.

Lucia Fernandez: I love what you said about how you always knew that you wanted to be an engineer. Like, for me, it wasn't like that. It took me years to figure out what I wanted to do and even moving countries. Now, I'd love to hear about ways in which we can strive to be a leader within our current roles. As a grad, for me, the ways that I could do this within Aurecon was joining the Limelight Committee. Limelight is the early careers professional network. And through this, I was able to organise and co-host networking events and public speak, which was a skill that I really wanted to develop. Luke, what are your tips for moving beyond the graduate stage and improving your leadership skills?

Luke Morcom: The leadership process does start quite early. One of my biggest learnings was around maximising communication with a broad group of people. Being able to experience lots of different communication methods and working with lots of different people has been one of the best ways for me to understand how to progress my leadership skills. I'm still meeting new people and still learning about how different people manage different clients, different projects, different opportunities, and how we can use those learnings to better lead on future projects and better lead the team for us to achieve good engineering design solutions.

Lucia Fernandez: So even if the word leader is not within our job title, what are some of the ways that we can still be a leader within our current roles?

Louise Adams: Look, I think there's opportunities for anybody to be a leader. One of the really critical opportunities to either lead a little part of a project or lead part of our relationship with a client, look through the lens of, well, how do I use and enhance my leadership skills, whilst also enhancing the skills of being a consultant and working with clients and solving problems and using my skills. I think sometimes the other thing we can underestimate, particularly early on in our career, is that you usually have already built up leadership skills, even prior to graduating, you might have played a leadership role in your school, you might have done it at uni, you might have had a leadership role in a sporting team.

The base fundamentals of leadership really remain the same. And it is a lifelong journey. It's not just about learning how to be a leader, going from one job title and then suddenly you've got leader in your job title. That also doesn't mean the journey of development stops there. Even for our most senior executives, always opportunities to get better, always opportunities to work out how to communicate, work out how do I lead this particular person versus this person? How do I lead through this challenge versus that challenge? I think it is the mindset shift that you have to take, is that every single day in your professional career will be an opportunity to learn about leadership and to demonstrate it. And I think the most important thing for people that are early in their career is not to get obsessed with the need to have leader in your title. Look for opportunities in the delivery of our projects, in working with clients, in the day to day of what you do. Look for opportunities to hone your leadership skills whilst doing your day job.

Lucia Fernandez: Luke, what challenges or barriers have you faced in your career journey so far and what have you done to overcome them?

Luke Morcom: The biggest challenge was something that a lot of businesses and workers have faced the last few years was, was the transition rapidly to a ‘work from home’ during the Covid times? Being very early in my career, when you're in the office working with a diverse range of people in a hot desk environment, you get to engage with people from different teams, understand how the business operates, understand what different people do. And moving to the working from home environment, it really pushed me to be quite driven to seek out those engagements myself through a digital means.

So, while it was quite a big challenge, it did force me to reach out to people. But now back in the office, being at a hot desk, sit next to people from different capabilities, different disciplines, it's been really, really valuable to be able to sit down and discuss with different people about their experiences and projects. So that's been a really, really good experience.

Lucia Fernandez: And it really makes you appreciate that time that you have in the office a lot more and I feel like now everybody's turning around and just having a conversation with whoever's next to them. What about you, Louise?

Louise Adams: I've had a number of challenges along the way, whether they are difficult projects that perhaps aren't going so well. If you have a good project, you feel this real sense of achievement. Sometimes when you have a difficult project, you can undermine that sense, and it feels like a bit of a slog and you've got to push yourself through. I've also had other challenges where potentially what I was hoping for in terms of a next opportunity didn't come through. If I look back on all of the challenges that I've had, when you reflect back on that challenge, when you're in it, you kind of seem to really tough and really hard and you sit there and go when’s this going to get a bit easier. When you reflect back on it, the reason it gets easier is because you actually get better and you learn the skills of how to deal with that challenge better.

And so the next time you come up across the next challenge, which might actually be a bigger challenge, you've just learned skills of how to cope with that. So again, it comes down to this lifelong learning thing of, just every opportunity you have, every experience you have, lean into it and find a way, whether it's enjoyable or not so enjoyable, find a way to learn from it and to reflect on yourself and reflect on others and become better. Become a better engineer, become a better leader. Become a better advisor. Become better at managing clients, become a better negotiator.

Whatever skill you're picking up. In the end, when you look back on that challenge, you're going to say, I was better for it.

Lucia Fernandez: One of the challenges I faced when I just started my first role here at Aurecon was that I had this idea that I had to seem like I knew everything. Or I had to pretend like I knew everything. And it's a really tricky mindset to be in, when you feel like you have to know the answer to everything. But I think the quality that employers look for when they look for grads and interns is not someone that knows everything, because then they wouldn't be hiring a grad, right? They want someone who has the capacity to say, I don't understand what you're saying because when you do that, that accelerates the process of your learning, and you learn so much faster and you rely on your team and you get a better job done.

So once I started to understand that I could ask for help and ask a lot more questions, I started to learn a lot faster, and that really helped. And after having conversations with a lot of grads, I found that they go through the same thing. So maybe it's something that we have to get that pressure off our shoulders and just start working and talking to people.

Louise Adams: You're right. But I think really interestingly that that same philosophy applies the whole way through your career, because when you think about senior leadership. You also don't want senior leaders that think they know everything because then they're quite closed off to that idea of, well, what's everybody's view here? And I think a core part of modern leadership is actually moving away from that idea that we have to have all the answers, because in this complex world, with the challenges that our clients are bringing us, we rarely do. And if we think we do, we shut ourselves off from that diverse mindset and that diverse thinking that we know gives us better solutions.

Luke Morcom: You mentioned it before about the reflection part and reflecting on those challenges, those problems, how you felt during that situation. I think that's the important part because you can face the challenge, you can overcome the challenge. But if you're not learning from it, you’re hindering your ability to progress in your career or potentially limiting what solutions can come out for future projects.

Lucia Fernandez: So I'd like to talk about artificial intelligence. We read a lot about how artificial intelligence can increase our productivity, but maybe decrease the reliance on us to perform some tasks. Louise, how can AI increase our productivity or improve the work of engineers, advisors and designers specifically?

Louise Adams: I think there's wonderful opportunities for AI to enhance what we do. People are always going to be sitting there looking at artificial intelligence, wondering, okay, well, am I still going to have a job in ten years’ time. But if we stick to this idea that it actually can enhance everybody's jobs as opposed to wiping out jobs, there's a real opportunity for us to say, well, what do I do on a day-to-day basis? What portion of my role is a little bit repetitive, maybe a little bit boring, maybe a little bit mundane, or maybe can be automated and therefore I can use AI to enhance it. That's step one in the journey for any organisation is to say, where's the low hanging fruit? How do I just take out these little tasks that don't need a human to be doing them that I could absolutely enhance, and therefore I can focus more of my time on high value stuff.

We know in Australia, and in fact, in many jurisdictions across the world, that we have a shortage of engineering capability and capacity. As a country to deliver on the infrastructure pipeline that we have, in particular, when you overlay that natural infrastructure pipeline with transitioning to be more of a greener economy, we know we don't have anywhere near enough engineers to do that. So there's answers to that. We rely a little bit more on migration. We work a lot on the pipeline. And how do we get more kids interested in engineering? But the flip side of that coin is how do we just become much more efficient at using the engineers that we have? And therefore, AI is an incredible opportunity for us to become more efficient and use it to enhance the capacity that we have.

Lucia Fernandez: Luke, what do you think are some of the ways AI can enhance our jobs?

Luke Morcom: I like the term enhance. I think that's a good way of thinking about artificial intelligence, but part of what I think it's important for is enabling things that we might not have been able to do before. There's a lot of tasks that due to repetition or due to data complexity, we just haven't been able to achieve. So it's giving us the tools and the skills to be able to rapidly optioneer a design, do iterative design process, parametric design, all these sort of tools that we may not have been able to do before because of the limitations on capability or the limitations on computing. And this is really enabling us to extend the boundaries of the engineering and then expand on the problems that we solve.

Currently there's a lot of focus on the visualisation of data. We spend a lot of time looking at 3D models in the construction industry that I work in, a lot of 3D representations, model centric design, and that results in a lot of data. So being able to process the data, use that data with an AI type interface and then display that in a meaningful manner and display that in iterative design processes that allow us to consider multiple different design alternatives is a really, really useful tool and will help us solve complex challenges in much more efficient and sustainable ways.

Lucia Fernandez: That's really exciting.

Louise Adams: The thing I would add to that is, I think it's really evident that if you're a graduate or an emerging professional, mid-career and you're involved in project delivery in our world or working on programs, there's a clear incentive there to go and understand AI and get your hand around the tools and figure out how is this going to impact me. But I would say there's an equally as important imperative for senior leaders to lean into AI, to really understand what is it, what isn't it, how's it going to affect the organisation? How am I going to make the right decisions for our organisation and for our people in relation to AI and really understand it, because we do at senior leadership levels, make really critical decisions not only for our own organisations but for the industry and in order to make those decisions, good decisions, we really need to lean into understanding this ourselves. I don't think there is a leadership role almost in any organisation where somebody can sit back and say, I don't think I really need to know about that.

Lucia Fernandez: A final question for the group, if you could give any piece of career advice, what would it be, Luke?

Luke Morcom: My key piece of advice is making sure that any opportunity that comes, any task, any advice that ever comes your way, you take it with full enthusiasm and take it on board as best you can and learn what you can from it, because there's always a learning experience in everything that we do.

Louise Adams: Hear, hear. That's really good advice. The other one that I think potentially, I've probably only got really good at in the latter part of my career, which if I could go back and say to my younger self, start off in the right space here. I think it's realising that professional services, by the nature of what we do. We're project or program based, we're working for clients. We have deadlines. It's not an easy career path to follow. And we have great flexibility and all of these different policies. But depending on those cycles of deadlines in that you can work pretty hard in this career, and therefore it calls upon an ability for you as an individual to make sure that doesn't ever overwhelm you. And I heard this great, analogy where they were talking about, you know when you get onto a plane and you're sitting there and they do the safety thing and they say, if the cabin pressure's drops, then oxygen will drop from above. And then they say, make sure you put your own mask on before you help anybody else. They said, that's really like a life advice to live by. And I think they're absolutely right. The idea is that you've got to take care of yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself to your colleagues, your peers, your family. You've got to really work hard to carve out time in your life for yourself and what you enjoy doing and what motivates you, and whether it's you want to keep healthy or you want to stay fit, or you just want to do things that you enjoy, actually recognising that you have every right to make time in your life for that and prioritise that.

For emerging professionals that helps you just enjoy things and then it probably inspires you a bit more to be better at work and to be more prepared for occasionally having to work those long hours. I think for any leader, it makes you more relaxed and more yourself and more able to lead people the way that you want to, rather than being stressed out and perhaps falling into some behaviours that aren't great. And then I think for parents, if you're raising a child, what better lesson to pass on to themselves then that self-respect and self-love and self-care is an important element that they need to learn in their lives.

Lucia Fernandez: My dad has always told me the importance of managing your stress and managing it earlier in your career because naturally as you progress, you get more responsibility, more tasks, and even people that rely on you if you're managing a team. And I really think that stress can be a little bit contagious sometimes, like it can trickle down a whole team if the manager of that team is not in a right state of mind, and not taking care of themselves properly. So, for anyone that's just starting and entering the workforce, start now, start building a habit that works for you. And that's a wrap. Thanks, Luke and Louise for this chat. I found it super inspiring.

Louise Adams: Thank you.

Luke Morcom: Thank you.

Maria Rampa: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Engineering Reimagined. How interesting to hear from three people at very different stages of their careers and I loved that analogy as a reminder to show yourself a little self-care. If you enjoyed this episode, hit subscribe on Apple, Google Podcasts or Spotify and don’t forget to follow Aurecon on your favourite social media platform to stay up to date and join the conversation. We’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a review or comment on socials. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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Career tips from grad to c-suite

No matter where your career takes you, the journey is just as important as the destination. Getting valuable advice along the way can be life changing.

Season 6 of Engineering Reimagined kicks off with three Aurecon professionals, each at very different stages of their careers, sharing heart-warming stories and their journey through STEM to inspire others in their own professional growth.

Graduate Environment and Sustainability Consultant Lucia Fernandez is joined by our Chief Operating Officer Louise Adams and Mechanical Engineer Luke Morcom. Discover how and why they set their career paths in motion, tips for navigating the ups and downs, and what they’ve learned about developing leadership skills along the way.

“You usually have already built up leadership skills, even prior to graduating. You might have played a leadership role in your school, you might have done it at uni, you might have had a leadership role in a sporting team. The base fundamentals of leadership really remain the same. And it is a lifelong journey.”

We also explore how AI might change the roles of engineers, designers and advisors.

Meet our guests

Learn more about Lucia Fernandez, Luke Morcom and Louise Adams.
Lucia Fernandez, Graduate Environment and Sustainability Consultant, Aurecon

Lucia Fernandez

Graduate Environment and Sustainability Consultant, Aurecon

Lucia has worked on a diverse range of projects within Aurecon’s Environment and Planning team and its Sustainability, Climate Change and Risk team. These projects provided her with exposure to energy, transport and resources markets.

Luke Morcom, Mechanical Engineer, Aurecon

Luke Morcom

Mechanical Engineer, Aurecon

Luke is a Mechanical Engineer working on commercial building design. He has experience in mechanical services HVAC design and project management of complex projects across multiple sectors, including government, education and commercial.

Louise Adams, Chief Operating Officer, Aurecon

Louise Adams

Chief Operating Officer, Aurecon

Louise is responsible for driving the financial, operational and people performance across the business. She was named as a Deakin University Alumni of the Year in 2021 and was recognised as the Australian CEO of the Year in 2020.

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