Jobs in Focus - Engineering

CouncilJobs recently sat down for a chat with experienced council engineer Anthony Ogle as part of a series of interviews designed to illustrate that great careers can be had in councils.

Who is Anthony Ogle?
Having worked in council roles for 37 years, Anthony is no stranger to the inner-workings of a council. Starting in 1980 as a cadet engineer at Windsor Council, his illustrious and rewarding career covers twelve different councils. His wealth of experience spans across an array of fields, such as roads, storm water, traffic, development and asset management, making him an invaluable mentor to the younger generation of council engineers. His current role is Smart City Infrastructure Projects Manager in the Civil Infrastructure and Integration Department of the City of Ryde in metropolitan Sydney, NSW.

To shine some light on councils for you, we’ve spoken to Anthony, and we’ve got the scoop on what it’s like to work within different councils, what council recruiters look for in applications, and how you can use council roles to fast track your career.

Why take on a role in a council?
To many aspiring engineers, the aim of the game is to graduate into big industry for big projects and climb the ladder. Yet quite often these same graduates get stuck on the bottom few rungs, giving way to the less technically experienced engineers.

Local Government provides an alternative, offering "network and portfolios, a bigger picture and ultimately a lot more responsibility". Two engineers-in-training at Ryde Council, after only 6 months, were offered a series of “integrated” projects, one being developing the bridge portfolio from asset data through hydrology assessments, bridge inspections and design, with the aim of being handed their own bridge construction project, which they would project manage. "Councils are overflowing with potential projects like this and given that 35% of the Local Government workforce is anticipated to retire in the next five years, the opportunities will only grow exponentially".

Anthony is generous with his praise for the work of council engineers and the potential for individual success. "It is very appealing for engineers to want to work on our projects. (They) want the recognition for  a project, the excitement, the challenge, like redesigning a city centre, because it takes experience and knowledge or some good mentoring to see the bigger picture and to feel satisfied with the larger result".

Speaking from his own experience, Anthony eagerly recommends growing your career through smaller councils, particularly in the early years. Within smaller councils, the potential for new skill development and understanding is abundant, as you get to learn the larger portion of any role. "In a small council, you get multiple things to do, whereas in a large council, there’s three of you doing the same specialised thing". He adds that it is extraordinarily difficult to get the necessary experience for senior positions in larger councils by coming up through the ranks of a large council.

Anthony goes on to add that "the best career path for senior management is one where you spend time dealing with a broad range of engineering and organisational issues rather than just continually focussing on the one technical field".

Outside of career growth, he is a fan of the "work-life balance" offered by councils, as the hours are much more predictable, giving time for life’s personal pursuits. Yet because of this, he warns of the risk of worker commitment, which councils are working hard to eradicate from public perception.

What do councils look for in applicants?
As a veteran in council recruitment, Anthony has some vital tips for engineers applying for roles within councils. One question he often asks is "why do we need an engineer to build bridges?" Many struggle to answer this question, but what separates the successful applicants is their ability to tell the story of how they add value to the project. Whether it be greater design efficiency or safety guarantees, the applicant needs to express an understanding of the deeper role of the engineer within councils and the community. Understanding the principles behind an engineering project and achieving tangible outcomes is what will set you apart from the rest of the field.

In terms of the extracurricular elements to your resume, Anthony only sees them as relevant if they showcase active networking within relevant council groups and at conferences, or you can show skills or knowledge that is useful for work. This showcases an interest in career development beyond seeking the next job opportunity.

On the other hand, applicants that regularly find themselves unsuccessful are those who exhibit a lack of "self-awareness". Often the interview panel will give cues to weed out those that are lacking, such as asking the same question in a slightly different way 2-3 times to determine how switched-on the applicant is.

How do I get ahead of the pack as an engineer?
With the population of New South Wales expected to increase by 20% in the next three years, opportunities for young engineers to step up and take on major projects within councils will undoubtedly appear. Anthony offered some invaluable advice for engineers looking to get ahead of the pack. He stressed the significance of seeking innovation outside of the typical curriculum. To become a leader in a field, you must be constantly looking to new ideas and fresh approaches to problem solving. At Ryde Council, they’re at the global forefront of their integrated controls with infrastructure development. Anthony attributes this to a desire to lead innovation, not just to follow.

Anthony stressed the importance of conferences and external reading to aid in finding new ideas, as well as the willingness to help create the project and the budget to turn a new idea into a physical reality.

Thanks for your insights Anthony

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