Challenge of going global
SOME graduates seem to have all the fun. Whether it’s playing charades with Yemeni construction workers, dining with the chief executive, or working out which of 86 locations - from London to Cairns - to work at next, a graduate engineer’s career at international design and consulting firm, Arup, is rarely predictable, often exciting and always challenging where it counts.
I’ve been able to manage projects, which many grads wouldn’t be able to do,’’ says civil engineering graduate, David Keast, 23, reflecting enthusiastically on his first year with Arup.
And for the last six to eight months, I’ve been working fulltime on a large shopping complex development in Sydney, and that’s a pretty big opportunity.’’
Now Mr Keast is busy plotting the best professional itinerary between Sydney, Beijing, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and New York where he will visit Arup offices and have an opportunity to see some of the major works in each centre as part of an Association of Consulting Structural Engineers ( ACSE) scholarship he received last year.
Although the scholarship provides for the winner to work with a number of different firms around the world, Mr Keast has chosen to join Arup offices in each location because of the sheer size and scope of the company.
The Sydney office designed the Water Cube in Beijing and the main Olympic stadium was designed by Arup London, and they’ve got some other massive projects like the China Central Television ( CCTV) headquarters which is a huge, crazy looking building,’’ he says. Mr Keast is one of the most recent recruits among the increasing number of graduates that the company employs within Australia each year to join its offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin.
Founded in the UK by Ove Arup as a consultant engineering firm in 1946, today Arup’s 86 offices in 37 countries are staffed by more than 9000 employees, including designers, engineers, planners and business consultants working on up to 10,000 simultaneous projects that can be broadly categorised as buildings, infrastructure and consulting. Past notable achievements include the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou in Paris and the Chunnel between Dover and Calais.
While not everybody gets to enjoy a scholarship similar to Mr Keast, the company does encourage its recruits to travel within the company both physically and professionally as part of its graduate development program.
Perth- based senior associate, Glynn Thomas, who leads the Australasian division of the company’s oil and gas business, says that with demand for engineers so high - particularly in the resources field - the program is part of the company’s effort to attract the best candidates and create the best engineers.
The only way we can get the best people is to offer excellent opportunities in terms of training, career development, and the ability to be flexible with the way people work,’’ Mr Thomas says. They get excellent opportunities and also good salaries.’’
The two- year development program initially provides each graduate with a mentor
buddy’’ to help him or her settle in and answer any questions. It also provides for further education in everything from team building to time management and allows for regular reviews.
‘‘ We listen to their needs on a very regular basis and then we give them those opportunities,’’ says Mr Thomas. ‘‘ We give them the opportunity to go and work in international locations, or other offices in Australia, or we make sure that they don’t just work in the oil and gas group, if that’s where they were originally assigned to.
‘‘ They get to move around so that after their three or four years of initial training and graduate development they can get their chartership from Engineers Australia and they also have a genuinely good diverse background in what they do.’’
Mr Thomas refers to one graduate who has recently overcome language difficulties while working with French partners and local construction crew in Yemen, which have given him a new appreciation of simple language and charades.
After that, they can be good technical leaders, people leaders or whatever they want to do in the future,’’ Mr Thomas says.
Sometimes we’ll lose them to other organisations because they want to go elsewhere, but hopefully at the end of the day they stay with us and continue to then return with interest some of that effort that we put in for them.’’ Before anything else, the program begins with an annual Graduate Weekend during which the newly recruited graduates from around the country meet each other and key figures in the organisation.
It was on the second night of her Arup graduate weekend in early 2006, that mechanical engineer and acoustic consultant Lauren Davis, 26, found to her surprise that she was eating with the company’s chief executive officer, Robert Care.
She points to it as manifestation of the company’s healthy disregard for any enforced hierarchy.
‘‘ I was sitting there next to the CEO of Arup Australasia sharing a wine and it wasn’t like sitting next to the big boss and being on my best behaviour. I could have a real conversation,’’ she says. ‘‘ That attitude goes right through the company. There’s no one that if you have a question, you can’t go up and ask.’’
Thanks to modern communication tools such as the Internet, asking questions of anybody in a global company is not a difficulty and in work on venues such as the new Melbourne Recital Hall, Ms Davis spends a lot of time consulting her acoustic colleagues based in Britain via an online forum.
While she is now based in Melbourne, like Mr Keast, she is packing up for a working adventure in May, but for Ms Davis it is doing a three- month job swap with one of her British forum colleagues.