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Mentoring: Richard and Alana

Good communication is the foundation of any relationship, and mentoring is no different. At its best, mentoring is not a one-way street where one person advises while the other learns. Both parties should exchange opinions and insight, and this pair has grown together doing just that.

Mentor: Richard Savage

Water and Wastewater Systems Principal Engineer for GHD

Alana and I were paired up as part of the 2016 AWA Queensland program and have been meeting ever since, generally monthly.

Prior to the matching process, we submitted a summary of our personal interests and background, emphasising the areas in which we work. Although I am a ‘strategy, planning, pipes and pumps’ type
of engineer, I do have a passion for water stewardship issues, which must have resonated with the organising committee to match me with Alana, who works in the ‘surface water world’.

Alana has greatly demonstrated to me that humility and honest endeavour will endure. In this world of dominant materialism, we are often tempted to pretend we are more than we are. Alana has always been true to herself and backed by incredible ability and talent, can achieve anything she sets her sights on.

She also proves the theory that the more you reach out to engage with and help those around you, the more you will grow yourself.

My time with Alana has endured because I think we both value the time together. I find myself significantly enriched by the mentees I have had the privilege of working with – this is my second formal program. I have taken a keen interest in mentoring young(er) professionals for many years.

Alana, particularly, has been an inspiration in her very underplayed, but significant contribution to her life, outside of her various day-to-day projects – Engineers Without Borders, Jacobs Young Professional Group, etc.

The best engineering comes from people that have a broad and varied experience of life and Alana is rapidly developing those building blocks of life in wonderful ways.

The old adage of successful communication – ask and listen – is a fundamental part of what makes a successful mentoring relationship. Although the superficial context for mentoring is for an information flow from mentor to mentee, it is much more about the mentee being free and encouraged to express themselves on a wide range of subjects, thereby ensuring a rich exchange of opinion and insight, underpinned by mutual respect and a mutual desire to learn.

For me, being a mentor is an initiative that I lean to without thinking, more so for what I know I will learn from the interaction than what I might be able to offer the mentee. I see any relationship, professional or personal, as a two-way exchange.

I have been hugely impressed by many young professionals entering our industry, and if there is one bit of wisdom or one new perspective I can add to their outlook on life and their profession, then that would make the mentoring time worthwhile.

It is also important to recognise that a mentor can learn a lot from being equally honest about shortcomings and vulnerabilities. So, to discuss our respective journeys and to listen to the response of my mentee to issues I raise, is a great opportunity for me to grow.

Mentee: Alana Scott

A/NZ Infrastructure and Environment Surface Water Engineer for Jacobs

As a mentee, this my first “real” experience (I’m also a mentor with the Griffith University Industrial Mentoring Program). I’ve previously signed-up for mentoring programs through work, but sadly my past mentors (soon after matching) all moved on from the company and we lost contact.

I have read and heard time and time again that gaining a good mentor is important for career growth and development and despite my past unsuccessful attempts, decided to give mentoring another go when I heard about the Young Water Professionals (YWP) program. YWP then matched Richard and myself based on our mutual interests from the program.

Richard and I primarily interact through morning catch-ups over tea. However, in the middle of the formal YWP mentoring program, I gained a placement through Jacobs to our Atlanta office in the US. Richard was incredibly excited by this opportunity for me and was keen on maintaining our dialogue while I was away. In my six months overseas, we had semi-regular phone conversations.

Richard is an incredibly insightful and giving person. Working in a consultancy for all my career, it has been emphasised to me that time is money. I am so heartened to think that engineers willing and interested enough to spend their valuable time on early-career professionals exist.

Richard’s “big theme” is about reading widely and constantly challenging myself to think how the knowledge gained could be applicable to or interact with my work. Essentially, he has opened my eyes to how innovation and step-changes can occur in the workplace, and about how to make myself the valuable employee that brings a bigger picture or new ideas to my projects. I am now more relaxed about my thoughts on what mentoring entails. My initial preconceived idea was that mentoring might allow me to gain special industry insight or knowledge about market trends that would be immediately applicable to my work practices and career, and I was anxious about correctly implementing changes to advance myself.

While we have often discussed industry trends, it has been from a higher level and big-picture perspective, which has enriched my view on my and my company’s role in the world. I’m less concerned about identifying immediate changes and actions for myself, and much more interested in just listening and absorbing the wisdom I’m fortunate to hear; I’ve found the whole process mind-expanding.

Finding a mentor on one’s own can be challenging, as it’s often recommended to find someone who is a couple of steps in front of you in terms of career progress. It can take a while to build a network inclusive of such persons. AWA already has the ability to reach-out to a fantastic group of professionals in the water field, so I was fortunate enough to gain a mentor like this.   

I would recommend to others thinking of entering a mentoring program to sign up with enthusiasm and approach the relationship with positivity. It may not work out the way you expect, but you’ll definitely learn something.

First published in Current magazine May 2018.

To get involved in the Australian Water Association’s mentoring program, contact your local branch.