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AECOM Australia

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Alice Naughton

As a structural engineer, I am responsible for the safety of people who are the end users of my designs.

Where did you grow up? Tell us about your education and previous work experience.

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Queensland. I attended Eagle Junction State School and St Agatha’s School in my junior years and completed my Senior Certificate at St Rita’s College, Clayfield. I studied at the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus for five and a half years. During my years as a student, I tutored extensively in the School of Economics, the engineering faculty and with private students; and I also worked in hospitality and retail roles. I kicked off my professional career with three months of work experience in the transport team at GHD. I gained experience in pavement design, traffic modelling, drainage and rail. I then scored a position in the Building Structures team at AECOM and the rest is history.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it? 

In 2015, I applied for an undergraduate structural engineering position in the Buildings and Places group at AECOM. I was recommended for the role by a university colleague and got the job. I worked as an undergraduate during my university vacations until my graduation in 2017, when I stepped into a full-time graduate role. Now at the end of my graduate program, I am looking forward to working as a professional engineer next year.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

Graduating with civil engineering and commerce (finance) provided me with loads of opportunities as I entered the job market. I have always been passionate about the built environment. As engineers, we are equipped to provide solutions that address our changing populations, waste, climate change, health and transport. We can make a tangible difference to our societies, which I find personally very rewarding. I chose to kick off my career in a technical role. I love the day-to-day work of a design engineer; from drawing the first line to inspecting a completed building.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interview process requires significant time and preparation. I treated applications and interviews as a subject during university. Applying for my undergraduate position involved submitting my resume and an informal interview with my now boss. For the graduate program, the interviewing was more rigorous, including online testing. The questions were centred on interests and strengths. 

Remember that your studies report already shows an employer a lot about your technical skills. An interview is an opportunity to show other skills that you will bring to the role, such as your interpersonal skills.

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would be beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience? 

AECOM hires a variety of professionals including engineers, project managers, scientists and economists to work on a wide range of infrastructure projects. The built infrastructure industry requires diverse skills that can be developed through many pathways. 

In my role as a technical design engineer, a four-year Bachelor of Engineering or equivalent is required. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies and use the technical knowledge (and the textbooks) I gained from university every day. Work experience is mandatory for the Bachelor of Engineering, but it also very useful for when you enter the job market. Work experience gives you the opportunity to broaden your experience and find the right fit for a job.

What does your employer do?

AECOM provides professional services such as engineering and project management, to design and deliver solutions to the world’s biggest infrastructural challenges. In my line of work, this involves working in an integrated team to design buildings that add value to society.

What are your areas of responsibility?

My current role is as a consultant structural engineer designing buildings for a wide variety of commercial, defence, health, education and power infrastructure projects. 

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

My current day in the life is 10 per cent site work and 90 per cent designing and modelling buildings. I enjoy the opportunity to do site work. I have completed inspections and visited clients all over Queensland. In the office, I spend most of my days modelling and designing buildings using technical methods I learned at university. My current design projects include a school in Townsville, a bus station structure and a gymnasium building. 

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

A good engineer produces high-quality technical solutions to problems. But a great engineer has the ability to ask ‘Why?’, to investigate and understand a client’s problem to help find the best solution. I have watched the curious and hard-working engineers here at AECOM excel in their careers. 

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here? 

Looking forward, there are loads of options for the next stage in my career. You can stick to a technical path, choose project management or move in a people management direction. In a big company like ours, there is always someone a few steps ahead of you and I have gained a lot by talking to my colleagues about their careers. I find comfort in knowing that no two pathways are the same.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Absolutely! A wonderful part of my team is the diverse experiences we each bring to our roles. My little team includes people who have worked in water, bridges and façades. 

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

I love the variety of work that I do. I love juggling multiple projects for multiple clients. There is never a dull day. In my brief career, I have been involved in the design of storage facilities, vehicle shelters, hospitals, power equipment, schools and shopping centres. 

Do you bear a lot of responsibility? 

As a structural engineer, I am responsible for the safety of people who are the end users of my designs. This is a very important role that I do not take on lightly. I am lucky to work in a team with highly competent engineers that I trust and feel comfortable to ask questions. Through checking and verification, I am able to complete my work confidently.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

If I wasn’t a structural engineer…

  • I would most likely work in another area of civil engineering. I am interested in transport and the connectivity of cities, in particular.
  • I might be an educator and researcher. I am currently continuing my studies at the university level and am passionate about teaching engineering.
  • I might be working in finance. During my studies, I considered working in an alternative path to engineering. Engineers are sought out for jobs in management and finance because of the problem-solving skills our programs equip us with.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Get involved in the industry. Keep an eye on trends in the built environment. Who is driving innovative work? Where are the BIG jobs? What resources are in hot demand? I recommend subscribing to a built environment newsletter, reading an industry magazine, listening to a podcast (eg Talking Cities) or joining one or more of the many professional bodies. There are many (often free) opportunities for students to attend technical presentations, networking events and access online resources through organisations such as Engineers Australia and IStructE.
  • Pull your weight in group assignments. Remember networking is not just about reaching your seniors; it also includes your peers. I was endorsed for my undergraduate position at AECOM by a university colleague with whom I completed a group assignment. By working hard and showing them my value, I was able to get my foot in the door for a fantastic role.
  • Think about your values. Your career should stem from your interests and values. Equality is one of my most important values. I have been heavily involved in promoting gender diversity in STEM, particularly at the levels of university and high schools. In choosing AECOM, the leadership team’s commitment to gender equality was a huge driver for me. AECOM is continuing to increase flexibility and support women in the industry. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am proud to work for a company that is helping to lead the change in equality.