On 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day with a theme fit for the water industry: to focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
In Australia, and more particularly here in Queensland, the water industry is facing complex workforce challenges including an ageing employee profile, issues attracting and retaining staff, and general skills and labour shortages.
The Queensland Water Skills Partnership, as the most significant industry-led skills program for the water industry in the state, has set its sight firmly on initiatives to tackle these challenges with a key focus on attracting more females into the industry.
The ball seems to be in motion with data collected for the qldwater 2019 Workforce Composition Snapshot Report due to be released later this year showing a steady increase in females joining the industry. The biennial report shows female representation creeping up from 24.75 in 2014 to 28.2% in 2016 and 36.9% in 2018.
To get a better idea of the people we are attracting, we talked to Narelle D’Amico, Branch Manager - Water Services at Bundaberg Regional Council, to hear her story.
I started at Bundaberg Regional Council in May 2018. My role is centered around the strategic direction and both internal and external stakeholder management. I work with team members in different branches and sections of business as well as externally to raise the profile of water services in our local community.
I like to think I am a “leader led” leader, which means I like to be visible and go out on site and into the community where appropriate. We cover both the hinterland and the coastal area, so we have a good mix of sites and I enjoy getting to know our people, assets and gain an understanding of the key issues staff deal with on a day to day basis.
I started my career 21 years ago after completing a degree in Environmental Engineering at Deacon University.
I spent a lot of my formative years working on designing and installing water and wastewater treatment plans, running environmental programs like restoring creek systems, rehabilitating and reinstating wetlands etc. Byron Shire and Hunter Water did a lot of work in transforming their localities whilst I was there, trying to reduce the impacts of urbanisation which causes more runoff and prevents natural infiltration. This is a big problem for our communities and something I really enjoyed working on.
I then spent 7.5 years with the WA Water Corporation in Western Australia, where I gained significant exposure to a variety of people, assets and communities, working in the Pilbara and Kimberley region. Here I worked as Major Works Project Manager for 2 years, Asset Manager for 3 years and finally as Service Delivery Manager for the Northern Region.
The Water Corporation is a statewide business, so from an asset services perspective networking really occurred within the business. I had six peers with similar roles across the state, which was great for support in terms of resource and knowledge sharing.
With my current role in Bundaberg it’s a lot more fragmented with peers spread out across different localities - this is why the work done by qldwater and programs like QWRAP are so important to provide these key linkages and networking opportunities. (Bundaberg Regional Council forms part of the Wide Bay Burnett Region of Councils.)
I also had an 18 month break in between jobs to travel around Australia with my then young family - this provided a great opportunity for our kids to bond with both parents which was an invaluable experience.
The Environmental Engineering Degree that I completed at Deakin University was heavily tailored towards water and wastewater and it had a good technical blend. I was attracted to it because I wanted more field-based employment rather than being an office bound engineer. I liked the complexity of the service provided mixed with my love for science and environment, so it seemed like a good fit.
I like to think that I bring a different perspective to the table. It’s not that all males think 2D, but I do think females tend to look at the bigger picture with a more holistic view. Our place of work is heavily centered on people and as a female I think differently about people - how to motivate and inspire people. I’d like to think that it provides a point of difference.
When I started at Bundaberg my manager apologised for the fact that there were only four technical females on the team and that the rest of the females were all in administration. But times are changing, and we now have a female graduate engineer, a female technical officer and a female apprentice metal mechanical fitter.
There is absolutely no reason why females can’t do the job at hand, and as the use of technology gets more prevalent we’ll be able to smarten up our way of working more and more.
The availability of female toilets sometimes! Seriously though, I have found far more benefits than negatives working in this industry, and I have always received great support from my male counterparts.
I’d say don’t be afraid - and don’t be afraid to ask. Be inquisitive and ask for help when you need it. It is an industry that provides multiple platforms for growth and provides a wide range of skill sets in business. Just because you start in one role there is no reason why you should still be there in ten years’ time.
In short: the future water employee will be someone who knows their community through their connection with the community and values their contribution.
Future employees will be continually developing and growing because of all the opportunities out there.
Water employees are largely Asset Managers - as technology becomes more prevalent it will further drive that need for each employee to be an asset manager in their own rights.
At Bundaberg Regional Council we are currently working on a Continuous Improvement Plan that will see us restructuring an alignment of skills sets. We are focusing our efforts on an electronic works system - it’s all about working smarter and empowering the operators.
We are changing the way we do things, and it’s great to be a part of it.