The prospect of working as an engineer in exotic locations such as Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and China was an opportunity that Gavin Strid couldn’t pass up. It’s one of the reasons he joined SMEC’s international team almost thirty years ago, embarking on a varied and fascinating career that would be the envy of many.
“I joined SMEC in about 1989. I wanted to travel, to see the world, and the vast SMEC network provided a solid platform to do that. Back in 1989, traveling was a very expensive proposition, so this was a great opportunity to see the world and some far-off places whilst building my career.
“I’ve worked in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China, Burma, India and Bangladesh, sometimes for short projects and other times for longer stints of four or five years.”
Over the years, Gavin has worked on world-class projects, but he says he is most proud of the infrastructure delivered with SMEC in developing countries, because it helps to improve the lives of the communities in which he operates.
“No two days are the same in this job. You face problems and obstacles abroad that you would never even think of facing in Australia. From working with bureaucrats in developing countries to meeting new members of the office team, it’s always a new experience.”
Perhaps Gavin’s most memorable project was one he delivered with his team in the far reaches of Mongolia.
“At the time we were designing a new national highway from Siberia in Russia through Mongolia to the Gobi Desert in China and there was one house every 200 kilometers. It was a truly remote place, filled with snow-capped mountains and permanently frozen ground and the scenery along the foothills of the Altay mountains was like nothing I have ever seen.”
“It was the same in the Northeast of India where I worked throughout some of the most remote parts of India. We worked throughout the foothills of the Himalayas up to the borders of China and Myanmar. You end up going to places few have been to before.”
Operating in a truly unique workplace is something Gavin loves to talk about and he is in a unique position to live and breathe diversity in the workplace every day.
“What is special about this job is the people you work with. You learn very quickly that we’re all the same, we all have the same ambitions and hopes.”
A community-based approach
Our teams helped local farming communities to form Water User Cooperative Societies (WUCS). These groups received training on the management of the modernised irrigation systems, as well as construction and maintenance of field irrigation channels. Passing on the knowledge and capabilities required to operate these systems was a key objective of the project, particularly for marginalised communities within the areas serviced by the irrigation network.
The community program also had a strong focus on female empowerment. Women made up 40-50% of participants in training and site visits conducted by the WUCS, and 22 women-only sub committees were formed with 347 members within the societies. In a country where women do not necessarily have the same access to opportunities as men, it was essential to develop the skills of local women so that they can then support their families and communities.
“We’ve set up our system all over the world so that when you come into a new country for the first time, there’s people to support you and help you learn the lay of the land. The teams we put together are a combination of international and local experts, and we work together towards a common goal.”
“Some of my best memories are from celebrating birthdays and weddings, and enjoying game days and social trips with our local teams. It is also the best form of team building.”
Gavin adds that life abroad isn’t something for everyone as it needs to be “in the blood”. But he thinks it’s something the next generation of engineers should do at least once. “It teaches you to be adaptable, how to work with people of other cultures and beliefs. It really opens your mind and broadens your horizon. There are a lot of benefits beyond the professional sphere. I believe it can help you grow into a better engineer and a better person.”