Australia, C&L, Cranes & Lifting, Features

Engineers without borders

Alliance Engineering Consultants (AEC) Director, Jeff Kazazi, and Engineers, Ieva Dzvankute and Yasmin Santana, discuss their favourite lifting engineering studies, diversity of skills, and the importance of a strong work ethic and the willingness to learn.

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Diversity in gender is notably improving within the crane industry along with diversity of training and sources of talent. The following is a focus on two female engineers with overseas background who have been working at AEC.

As Australia faces one of the worst professional skills shortages seen in decades, it must look to different approaches to address the gaps that are emerging in the country’s skilled workforce. This is particularly present in the engineering discipline, with Engineers Australia releasing a detailed report that revealed the demand for skilled engineers was outpacing supply, growing at three times the rate of the general workforce. 

However, just because a shortage is rife, does not mean that gaps must be filled with any qualified person. A proper work ethic must be inherent along with the willingness to learn for an engineer to be successful in their career – especially in the high-stakes world of lifting engineering and lift planning for the oil & gas, infrastructure, construction, and onshore mining industries.

“We could advertise a job vacancy position online and receive a vast range of different applicants,” says Jeff. “However, we need to ensure that we will employ the right person for the position because, what matters at the end of the day, is a good work ethic, willingness to learn and putting in the effort that reigns supreme for us. Innovative thinking and attention to detail then follow. The team spirit that develops is very satisfying.”

AEC emphasises the importance of its engineers going out onto site and gaining practical experience. Image: AEC

This, for Jeff, is typified by AEC’s engineers, Ieva Dzvankute and Yasmin Santana. Hailing from Lithuania and working at AEC for nearly 12 years, Ieva’s work has seen her complete a range of complex lifting operations – from designing a large high ropes activity course in Queensland at a local adventure park through to lifting and shifting large electrical panels into place on an offshore gas facility and the site supervision of the deconstruction of a drilling derrick on the North Rankin A platform for Woodside.  Before coming to Australia, Ieva achieved an honours degree in Structural Engineering from Vilnius Gediminas Technical University in Lithuania and then worked for seven years in the United Kingdom on commercial and communications projects. Her first job in Australia was with AEC. Jeff’s usual requirement for a three-month trial before offering a permanent position was trimmed to one month! 

“Ieva’s work ethic and ‘can do’ approach was quickly recognised and fortunately for us,” says Jeff, “she is still happy here!” 

Yasmin, on the other hand, came to Australia after obtaining an honours degree in Civil Engineering in Brazil and working on medium to large civil/structural projects for two years in Brazil and then nearly four years abroad, including Egypt. Yasmin attended the University of Uberlandia in Brazil via a rarely awarded scholarship and has managed to learn English to a very high proficiency in a relatively short time while working away from her home base. Yasmin went through a similar trial period in AEC which was reduced due to Yasmin’s obvious potential.  Yasmin is relatively fresh to the lifting industry having only been with AEC for over two years, but she represents the holistic, hard-working, positive attitude Jeff says is needed to succeed in the industry. 

“From our studies, we were always learning about engineering from a civil, hydraulic, and structural point of view,” she said. “That made our skills very transferrable, and it ensured our capacity to feel comfortable completing an array of different jobs.”

And, underscored by AEC conducting its work all across Australia and in an array of different industries, this transferability is something that comes to the fore regularly. Ieva and Yasmin’s work primarily involves structural engineering but, as mentioned before, can range from various jobs, going from adventure parks to offshore platforms. For the pair of them, working on the theory is an integral part of the job, and it is supplemented by the need to get out onto site and deal with jobs practically, to ensure that they, as engineers, know exactly what the operations teams are dealing with. This range of work and involvement in all stages of the project gives both of them rare skills not very often seen in the industry.

“Although we are mostly in the office, we aim to get out and about as often as we can; that makes the whole difference in engineering,” says Yasmin. “I think a lot of people are just operating theoretically, but when you see these things in real life, you become much more practical and become aware of what other people are physically dealing with and how the construction and installation process works. It only enhances our ability to complete our jobs better and optimize our designs.”

For Ieva, this principle holds true too. One of the other key lessons she vouches for, and something that consistently reverberates around AEC’s operations, is the need to be involved early on in the project. Because, if AEC is involved early on, the design of the lifting systems has a better chance to be streamlined and successful. This, for Ieva, was exemplified by a job that she conducted where a prime engineering contractor for an oil and gas company couldn’t find a solution to installing a large piece of equipment in a tight space. Ieva, however, could.

AEC possesses a team that prioritises a strong work ethic and the willingness to learn. Image: AEC.

“The prime contractor for the oil and gas company wasn’t able to come up with a solution,” she says. “We were able to come up with a design for installing this equipment with only 40mm of clearance by using roller balls that are used on aircraft cargo bays and turning them upside down to become the transfer device on a flat surface.

“We took inspiration for that one because I was watching how baggage handlers transferred suitcases,” she continues. “It’s a prime example of how being involved in the project from day one enables us to implement an innovative and efficient solution.”

This kind of practical thinking is reflected in a range of the work AEC conducts. The list of unconventional jobs and lifting solutions goes on and on; using air skates to navigate equipment successfully into position with only minimal clearance, deploying barge cranes to lift structures into place offshore, and designing 850m-long zip lines for Mount Buller in Victoria snow fields. Each of these jobs requires creative, lateral thinking in order to successfully deliver the correct lifting and installation solution; thinking that both Yasmin and Ieva concur.

“People at AEC have the freedom to conduct their scope of work and it’s really enjoyable to have this freedom to self-manage our time,” says Yasmin. “We know that we’ve got full ownership of our own working time, and we know that it’s on us to appropriately manage our time and resources to effectively deliver engineering solutions to clients’ problems. It’s empowering, and it fosters a positive working environment for us to operate in.”

“We’ve always felt valued for our knowledge and ideas,” says Ieva. “We always aim to brainstorm and consult with the AEC team to improve ourselves and come up with the best output for our client; for me, this is fundamental to engineering, because no one can be expected to know everything instantly. All we can do is learn from our and others’ practical experiences and keep bringing the best of ourselves to each job that we work on.”

Ultimately, for Jeff and the AEC team, practical, hands-on experience as well as a sound technical knowledge base is crucial to ensuring work gets done correctly, efficiently and effectively. Operating across the country and providing lifting solutions to such a diverse range of industries requires creative thinking and a willingness to consider new materials and methods. 

“One thing that people underestimate is the need for both a very sound understanding of the physics involved plus a practical approach. If we can’t advise how to construct and install what we have designed, we can’t assume that the personnel in the field will be on the same page. All theory and little practical experience is only of limited value” says Jeff. 

“Besides technical correctness and attention to detail, practicality is vital,” he continues. “Work ethic and an open mind are fundamental aspects to succeeding for us, and that is what we prioritise.” 

“It is a privilege to have such a dedicated team of engineers, designers and support staff,” says Jeff, “working together at AEC.” 

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