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Ozwater Education Program introduces students to the water industry

Ozwater is the largest event in the Southern Hemisphere’s calendar – an annual gathering of the water sector’s top minds, most innovative businesses, advanced utilities and inspired exhibitors.

But it is also a forum in which the next generation can discover the inspiration and importance of the water sector, underpinned by the conference’s Education Program, sponsored again in 2023 by Fulton Hogan Utilities.

Conducted over two days, the Ozwater’23 Education Program involved students from Morisset High School, the Tumbi Umbi and The Entrance campuses of Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College, and De La Salle Catholic College, Cronulla.

The first day formed the centrepiece of a 10-week program involving year 7 students from Morisset High, which used a real-life project as its basis using a problem-based learning approach.

“We presented the students with a brief from a project we are delivering for Sydney Water, outlining a problem that needs an engineering solution,” explained David Howard, Fulton Hogan’s Business Development and Strategy Manager.

“We use all the terminology that we would use in our day-to-day business and give them the overview of the problem, what they need to achieve, and the success criteria that they need to take into account. A key part of the success criteria focus on the impacts on the environment and stakeholders.

“Throughout the program we visit them twice in the classroom and take them on a site visit so they can actually see the site and get an appreciation of what's actually happening.

“At Ozwater, we break them into subgroups and have our Fulton Hogan people do a mentoring session, but we also bring in other partners from other businesses within the industry.”

Real-life problems

This year, the students looked at a Sydney Water infrastructure upgrade to the sewerage network in south-west Sydney.

Needing to accommodate an anticipated additional 2000 new developments in the area, Fulton Hogan Utilities is constructing an interim pumping station and associated sewerage mains, which will become an ultimate pumping station that services a treatment plant to be constructed in the near future.

“We identified a section of the interim pipeline that passes through private property with identified native vegetation and also cuts across two roadways, a significant number of existing services and is adjacent to natural waterways, and tasked the students to determine the best installation technology that would achieve the design intent of the pipeline – which required depth, alignment, pipe material and gradient – while achieving minimal negative impact to the identified constraints,” Howard said.

“We have asked them to present an installation methodology for this section of pipeline and identify how they have addressed native vegetation concerns, traffic management, service identification and interaction, and the control measures put in place to protect the waterways nearby.

During this year 7 program, Ozwater provides an opportunity to bring in experts from partners, like Xylem and Sydney Water, to expand the range of insights available to the students.

“I rely heavily on other people to volunteer to help out across the two days, and I never have any trouble getting people to volunteer,” Howard said.

“That's a mark of the water industry and the people in it.”

When it comes to the response from students, “they absolutely love it”, David said.

“We’ve had a number of stories about kids who have no interest in school who suddenly cannot wait to get to school in the morning to discuss the project,” he said.

“[The students] are knocking on the teacher's door on Monday morning saying, ‘well, I thought about this on the weekend’. And we’ve had feedback from parents saying, ‘I've never seen my child so engaged.’”

Industry immersion

Day two of Fulton Hogan’s Education Program focused on students from Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College, De La Salle Catholic College Cronulla and Morisset High.

An industry immersion day, this introduces students who will soon be finishing school to the range of different disciplines, companies and opportunities within the water sector.

“We present an opportunity for senior students to connect their class-based curriculum back to the real world,” said Howard.

“The day includes presentations providing an overview of opportunities across a broad spectrum of water industry capabilities, offering students insights into various careers from professional services to blue-collar trades.

“The day culminates in an interactive session followed by an open panel Q&A and breakout session with key personnel from the industry discussing their journey and possible options for future careers.”

The interactive session this year involved a virtual reality demonstration from Schneider Electric.

After this, the students were given the opportunity to explore the vast trade hall at the centre of the Ozwater conference.

“They can get around and ask questions. That’s a really important part of it,” Howard said.

For Fulton Hogan, the program is one way to give back to the communities in which the company works. But there is a longer-term goal too.

“As an industry we are all struggling for resources and getting people interested in engineering, particularly in the water sector, is only going to help us in the long run,” Howard said.