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By the bubbler with Mal Shepherd

Mal Shepherd is Industry General Manager – Utilities in the John Holland infrastructure business group, which is responsible for sector business activity across Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

He has more than 30 years’ experience in the design-construct environment delivering complex, multidisciplinary engineering projects, predominantly in the water sector.

In his various roles at John Holland, Shepherd has been involved in the delivery of the company’s Water & Enviro infrastructure contracts, valued at more than $5 billion.

This includes piped water transfer systems, pumping stations, wastewater treatment plants, potable water treatment and advanced water treatment infrastructure such as recycled water and desalination plants.

Shepherd is also a Director on the Board of the Australian Water Association (AWA), WaterAid Australia and an Advisory Committee member of the Australian Water Partnership.

Here, he shares his thoughts on the world of water and beyond.

What drew you into the water industry?

Reflecting on this question, I think like most people I started my career in an industry that I knew relatively little about. I think the better question is what has kept me in the water industry. Water has a global community with a high level of collaborative comradery that I see in no other industry. One of my passions is international water and the work of both the AWA via the channelling change program and WaterAid.

WaterAid is the charity of the global water industry. Again, like no other industry the private sector, utilities and government are working together to make a difference in vulnerable communities so that people can get access to safe drinking water and sanitation. One of the other benefits is that we are also helping to raise awareness and address gender, equality, and social inclusion issues.

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

Every day reflect upon three things that I am grateful for. Most days the water sector features in my thoughts. We are extremely fortunate to have so many global thought leaders that keep challenging how we can create more sustainable, resilient and customer centred solutions in water resource management. I tremendously enjoy being a part of the Australian water story and proud to have been involved in the delivery of some iconic water infrastructure projects.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I like either camping, skiing or 4WD on the beach with the family and friends. Every week I ride with a local cycling group which is a diverse bunch but always lots of fun.

If you were a breed of dog, which would you be and why?

An Alaskan Malamute. They exhibit the character and values of good leaders: loyalty, resilience, work well in a team environment, like work, can deal with adversity, like serving people, develop and nurture the younger members of the team and have a strong sense of caring for their community group.

What do you believe is currently the greatest challenge for your part of the water industry?

I recently attended in Singapore the SIWW Spotlight and Ecosperity dialogue. The event addressed more global issues on the impact of climate change and water scarcity.

There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is real. We all need to move from ambition to taking action, to kerb the trend away from irreversible impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius in global warming.

Thinking more about our local market issues there are three emergent topics where the industry needs to have some thoughtful discussions around;

  • Skills shortage across all level of the water sector. Where will our future workforce and leaders come from? Talent is being attracted to the road and rail sectors not water.
  • Industry HSE. We now have a forum in place (courtesy of AWA and WSAA collaboration) where asset owner/operators can have a discussion with industry to improving HSE performance and outcomes.
  • Cost of participation in procurement processes and are we getting the risk allocation right for complex high-risk infrastructure.

How does your organisation benefit from being a corporate member of the Australian Water Association?

John Holland has always been a strong supporter of the AWA. We operate in both national and international markets. The AWA provides a good portal and connection into the demand and supply side of these markets.

Our people want to make a difference and be a part of transforming our industry. The AWA allows our people to participate in this journey at events such as Ozwater where we supported the safety, health and wellbeing stream.

What messages would you like to give to your colleagues in the Queensland water sector?

It is an exciting time to be in the water sector. How we bring alive the SDG’s especially SDG 6 is up to us. By increasing water literacy, we can make a difference together.

Water is the most essential environmental, health and economic building block of a nation. We still face many challenges in the water sector both in the urban and rural context. Participation by water professionals in organisations such as the AWA can impact on development of good policies, informed and challenged discussions based upon good science, sound research and engineering.

The QLD Source Editorial committee is always thinking about how to better engage with our broader membership. Do you have a diverse background or experience you would like to share? Do let us know if you would like a chat by the bubbler…