Empowering the next generation of Indigenous engineers

  • Laing O’Rourke partners with Engineering Aid Australia to tackle the engineering shortage in Indigenous communities

Earlier this year Laing O’Rourke played host to the 2018 cohort of the Engineering Aid Australia’s (EAA) Indigenous Australian Summer School at the University of Sydney.

Hailing from all across Australia, Laing O’Rourke welcomed Indigenous students from years 9 through 12 to Sydney where they enjoyed a full day of engineering and construction related activities.

Laing O’Rourke entered into a partnership with Engineering Aid Australia last year to support their Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School (IAESS) programme and encourage more Indigenous students to consider a career in the industry.

EAA is a non-profit organisation which aims to encourage young Indigenous people to consider tertiary studies and a possible career in engineering. They hold two week-long summer school programs each January, with approximately 20 Indigenous students from around Australia attending at no cost to themselves.

Rob Timbrell from Laing O’Rourke’s Human Capital team leads the company’s relationship with EAA and said it reflected the importance of engaging with local communities.

“Giving members of the Indigenous communities the confidence and resources to pursue their goals is valuable not only to the diversity of our company, but to empowering Indigenous groups,” Rod said.

“These individuals bring a unique experience about the needs of their own communities to our industry, allowing us to bridge a gap in cultural understanding and build stronger relationships with local communities around our projects.”

The students were able to experience Laing O’Rourke’s Demolition Project of the Blackburn Building for the University of Sydney. The six-storey building was built in the 1930s, providing a link between the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney’s Health and medical faculties. It is being demolished to make way for construction of the new Susan Wakil Health building, due to commence in the coming months.

The day kicked off with some project-related trivia. They then visited the construction site to check out some demolition activities, including the tree removal, services disconnections and diversions, strip out, hazardous materials removal and demolition of the Blackburn Building and adjacent one-storey Dangerous Goods Store. Afterwards, they got to experience the project through Laing O’Rourke’s unique virtual and augmented reality tools.

Laing O’Rourke’s Project Director Elliot Howse, who hosted the students on site, said the project team was delighted to showcase their work to the students.  

“It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase Laing O’Rourke’s experience and expertise and I look forward to welcoming some of the students onto our graduate program in a few years’ time.”

Laing O’Rourke will continue to support the programme, with a number of Project Engineers volunteering to mentor the students and continue to encourage them to consider engineering as a career.

EAA was formed in 1995 by the late Jeff Dobell, with the launch of the first IAESS in 1998. The programme was run in response to the shocking fact that, at the time, only one Indigenous engineer had graduated during the entire 85-year history of the faculty. Now, more than 600 Indigenous teens have been through the programme and many have continued on to become engineers.

Ezra Jacobs-Smith, a participant in the programme, shared how life-changing the experience was.

“I attended the IAESS camp as a year 11 student, and at the time I didn’t know much about engineering, nor did I think I had what it took to make it into an engineering. The Aboriginal camp supervisors who were engineers had stories very similar to mine, and they showed me that you can achieve a lot with persistence and determination.

“I’m now an environmental engineer and I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to attend IAESS. My current role requires me to manage sites that are culturally significant for Aboriginal people and also those that have an important colonial history. This work is extremely satisfying and I’m honoured that I have an opportunity to contribute to such an important project for our people.”

Laing O’Rourke’s involvement with Engineering Aid Australia is part of the organisation’s commitment to improve the diversity of our workforce and is a wonderful step towards creating more opportunities for stories like Ezra’s.

To find out more about the programme or to get involved, visit the EAA website.

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