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Curtin University

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Kurt Jennings

I like being able to see the product of my design come to life and to imagine the transmission of loading through the structure.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Adelaide and my family migrated from SA to WA when I was one year old. I grew up in the Perth Hills and attended the local primary school and Helena College Senior School. I worked at the local swimming pool as a Lifeguard for much of my later school years and through university. I moved out of home when I was 19 years old, during my second year of university at Curtin and started working as a lifeguard at Cannington and Victoria Park pools where I worked until I finished my degree. I travelled on two separate occasions, once during my degree and once afterward. The first trip was through Europe with high school friends and the second was through Northern Asia, first by myself and meeting up with my long-term partner in Japan. On the second trip, I volunteered in Nepal building schools for a month and was able to practice some of my engineering knowledge from my degree in a practical sense.

How did you get to your current job position?

I started at ACOR as a graduate structural engineer in 2015 after completing four weeks of vacation studies at the company through the WIL program at Curtin. I arranged the placement through a friend of mine and Curtin assisted in sorting out the finer details. Following the completion of my degree, I started formally at ACOR and worked as a graduate engineer for approximately two years before being promoted to a Structural Engineer. Currently, I oversee the structural deliverables for the Perth office with the assistance of a new graduate structural engineer. We deliver engineered designs of multidisciplinary projects for defence, government, mining and industrial clients.

How did you choose your specialisation?

I always felt drawn to the tangible nature of structural engineering in comparison to other disciplines. I like being able to see the product of my design come to life and to imagine the transmission of loading through the structure. The other main option available to me through my degree is civil engineer, which, while complex in its own right, never sparked the same degree of imagination and fascination in me.

What was your interview process like?

I arranged my interview for the work placement after a friend contacted me with  graduate opportunity with ACOR. I sold the work placement as a trial to the graduate position and was accepted to have an interview. I believe the way that I communicated in writing was especially important and that confidence was ultimately what led me to be interviewed. I was certainly nervous going into my interview but did my best to present confidently. I was interviewed by the office manager and senior structural engineer at the time. I was asked a lot of questions around my previous work and how I had reacted in different scenarios.

There were a lot of typical interview questions such as examples of strengths, weaknesses, and times that I had dealt with pressure. I was given some scenarios which I may encounter in my work involving site visits and prioritisation in designs. I don’t believe that my answers were overly important, rather the focus was on how I responded and my ability to communicate confidently and solve problems when put on the spot. 

What does your employer do?

ACOR Consultants is a national company specialising in design consultation and design management. We deliver services for Structural, Civil, Mechanical, Petrochemical, Hydraulic, Electrical and Remedial engineering, and Dangerous Goods consultation. Our largest clients in WA are in the Defence, Mining and Industrial sectors, who we assist with full project scopes including feasibility assessments, design development, tender review and construction support. We seek to develop relationships with our clients where possible by understanding how our capabilities fit with their needs, rather than chasing and targeting individual projects with separate clients. 

This affords us the opportunity to create repeat work with the right clients, rather than constantly labouring to prove our capabilities via open tenders.

What are your areas of responsibility?

Primarily, my role is to undertake structural engineering, consultation, and review of structural designs. It is my responsibility to ensure quality output from the structural team in ACOR WA and ensure our clients are satisfied with the service they are receiving. In addition to this, we provide design management services to some of our clients which requires me to coordinate other engineering disciplines and external suppliers such as architects, quantity surveyors and investigation teams. Further responsibilities include business development to investigate potential clients to develop relationships with and mentoring of junior staff members in best practice structural design.

Can you describe a typical workday?

Typically, I work out of our office in Fremantle where my standard tasks include report writing, design calculations and drawing review. I also spend a lot of time out on various sites undertaking inspections of contractor work and investigating existing structures for remedial projects. My day can also include meetings with clients and providers, development of tenders and business planning meetings.

A primary project I am currently working on the development of a fertiliser storage facility planned in Kwinana. We are providing schematic designs for all major engineering services, to be implemented for a design and construct tender. We need to confirm the suitability of the client’s intentions to ensure that what they want is possible and that it can be delivered within their budget. This project includes storage for both solid and liquid fertiliser and incorporates a large warehouse with enormous open spans and a containment bund for tank storage.

What are the career prospects with your job?

At ACOR, there are a lot of options for development which I could focus on for my future career. Currently, I am heavily involved in both the technical design and the project management components of the business. This gives me a well-defined knowledge base for structural engineering as well as a well-rounded understanding of other engineering disciplines and how they affect one another.  I would like to stay focused on engineering design primarily, as I feel this allows me to bring the most value to my role. The likely career prospects for this direction include leadership of an expanded structural team, development of high-value client relationships and input into the strategic direction of the office and business. I find these responsibilities are quite important among senior engineers and are typically desirable to new employers searching for senior talent. The development of these skills can also be important for starting a successful business or becoming a shareholder in an existing company. In general, however, all successful engineers will transition from technical designs to leadership and management at some point, so it’s important to be focussing and developing these skills in parallel with the technical skills.

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

My other work placement at the end of my degree was with Jaxon construction assisting with the construction of the Frasier’s Suites development in East Perth. This placement exposed me to the construction management & site engineering side of what I’d learnt. This was certainly an interesting experience as I was surrounded by the outcomes of engineering and could get an understanding of how designs are formed in the real world. I think that if I did want to look for a change in scenery, a career in construction management may be a viable option since my current responsibilities in technical design and project management would serve well to seek practical construction solutions and be self-sustaining in my approach to design issues.

What do you love the most about your job?

I enjoy being constantly challenged in my role and facing new problems from day to day and project to project. Every new design is a puzzle to be solved and every remedial issue is a mystery to be explored. This variability keeps the spark going for me to continuously learn and explore for new and better solutions on how to deliver design outcomes. Our company is also focusing on digital innovation in recent years and I am one of the representatives from the Perth office for our Digital Innovation Group. These sorts of initiatives spark fresh ideas in the company and allow people to develop new, potentially unrelated skills beyond their daily tasks such as software development or project management. I think; however, the most enjoyable part of my job is the responsibility and trust my managers have in me. Without having developed the relationship I have with them, I don’t believe I would be as capable as I am now. The task I enjoy the most would have to be technical design, as it presents the most challenging and tangible problems to solve and will generally give enjoyment long term as I see the outcome be developed through fabrication and construction.

What is the biggest limitation of your job?

Currently, I find a large limitation to be my experience in years and how that reflects on my ability to strike confidence in my clients. Since I’m comparatively still new to the profession but hold responsibility for project and client management, I feel as though I need to consistently prove myself and perform at a high standard maintain security in a client relationship. Additionally, I have had to self-teach and self-improve for much of the past few years while I have been coordinating the Perth structural services. Doing this certainly increases the stress levels in my role, but this is the price to pay as responsibilities increase toward more senior roles.

Generally, I avoid working weekends or working at all once I’ve left the office apart from the odd exception now and again. I believe that doing this allows me to compartmentalise myself and separate the days and tasks. As a compromise, I do often stay late in the office to complete work as required; however, once I leave the office I won’t pick it up again until the next week.

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

  • I encourage students to give attention to effective communication, this is what separates a good engineer and a great engineer. Communication helps to convince others of your point of view, which is incredibly important when talking with non-engineering parties such as architects, clients, and contractors. Good communication includes being understanding of other people’s situations. Not everyone is an engineer, or necessarily puts a lot of attention to the technical aspects of a design. If you are going to be delivering designs and dealing with clients, you need to recognise what’s important to others and work to find solutions which strike a balance between a ruthlessly optimised engineered design, and the aesthetic, complex design often wanted by clients or architects.
  • Secondly, don’t be afraid to believe in yourself and challenge the directions given to you by others if you think they’re wrong. If you develop a habit of questioning your actions and asking senior staff to explain themselves, you will learn more and will also be more likely to catch mistakes before they happen. Often, even the act of talking through your design methodology will be enough to find more efficient methods and ensure you’re absorbing as much experience as you can from each project. The best managers and senior engineers will encourage and embrace this in graduates wherever they find it.
  • Finally, an important skill to develop is effective learning. If you can quickly learn new skills and retain knowledge, you will be able to improve fast and be trusted by others with more technical, self-guided work. This passion for knowledge will also keep you looking for new improvements and pushing the boundaries of your knowledge.