As we kick-off 2022 we are looking to the future. Australia is experiencing unprecedented investment in infrastructure and to successfully deliver these projects with innovation and foresight for integrated sustainability there is one thing which is at the core – OUR PEOPLE.

Dr Richard Kelly, SMEC’s General Manager Technical Excellence has shared how SMEC approaches the challenges and opportunities that are arising in Infrastructure Partnership Australia’s annual Future Building publication.

“With every challenge there is an opportunity, and in Australia we are fortunate to have some of the world’s leaders in engineering, planning and construction. We have a highly skilled workforce that can transform the sector and implement innovation – an excellent base for the future.”

Growing future leadership talent with sponsorship

SMEC is a proud participant in the Cultivate program which provides a formal, curated program which aims to create long-term cultural change by connecting sponsors with women across the business to help them build the strategic alliances and tools to succeed. It is important to recognise that nurturing diversity and inclusion is of paramount importance to our sector’s success, and in delivering innovative solutions that are representative.

Technical Excellence and professional growth are key priorities for SMEC and our people. In 2020 we launched the SMEC ‘Fusion’ technical mentorship program which aims to build technical consulting skills across the business, by recognising and supporting the development of the mentees’ technical skills in their specialist areas of expertise and promoting this to the wider market.

Ciara Otter
Manager – Water Infrastructure, Brisbane (Cultivate Participant)

With over 18 years’ experience in project design, delivery and asset management, Ciara specialises in the areas of water and waste water collection, transfer and treatment.

Ciara’s two favourite things about being an engineer? “Firstly, the sense of achievement and accomplishment I get from using a combination of creativity and reason to solve a client’s problem. The second is the variety and flexibility – you could be working onsite one day, in the office the next and then with a client or working from home,” said Ciara.

As Submission Lead on the Urban Utilities’ Enhanced Condition Assessment Program in Queensland, Ciara has been responsible for coordinating and project managing over 100 rehabilitation submissions for water supply and sewerage networks, facilities and sewage treatment plants (STPs). Supporting SMEC’s innovative condition assessment practices within this water infrastructure program.


How important was it to be part of Cultivate?

“It was an honour to be chosen for Cultivate – it has really made me feel like SMEC values both me and other female engineers in the company and is actively taking steps to give us opportunities to further our careers.

Working with James Phillis, SMEC’s CEO as my sponsor gave me great insights into SMEC’s leadership, the challenges they face and how they overcome them. I also developed a broader understanding of SMEC as a whole and our overarching goals for the future,” explained Ciara.

Kara Stariha
Senior Engineer – Geotechnics (Fusion Participant)

Kara is a passionate engineer who started her career with SMEC as an undergraduate and has had the opportunity to work on a range of projects across Australia and Internationally.  Kara is currently working in the Geotechnical team in Sydney and Cooma on projects including Snowy 2.0, Dungowan Dam, Bendora Dam and Hu’u Copper Project.

As a ‘Fusion’ participant, Kara is developing methods for remotely measuring and interpreting rock slopes, including through drone footage.  Kara’s use of technology increases productivity and helps overcome the current shortage of Dams and Geotechnical engineers.


How has the ‘Fusion’ program helped you to develop your technical skills?

“Fusion has been an excellent program. It’s given me the time and support to delve into technical areas in which I had always had an interest but couldn’t find the time to properly investigate. I’ve been able to increase my technical understanding of emerging technologies used to remotely characterise rock masses. I have now published my first paper and have a potential presentation at a conference in Korea next year! I’ve been able to apply my work to multiple projects already and can see a real future in developing this capability further at SMEC,” said Kara.

“It’s great to see SMEC taking such an active role in developing the technical leadership of the future. The support from my mentor and from the other participants has been a great help in understanding the academic world, and the regular reviews kept me accountable throughout the year, which was a push that I really needed.”


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