Spotlight on a Regional YWP: Mitch Baker
Regional AWA members have always been essential to delivering water and sewage services across the country. This Spotlight article is part of a series highlighting our regional members' experiences and contributions to their industry and communities. In this interview, we learn about Mitch Baker, Projects Engineer – Infrastructure at Parkes Shire Council.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do.
I'm originally from Parkes, so I grew up and went to primary and high school here. When I completed my HSC, I knew I wanted to do engineering, so I enrolled in a Flexible First Year Engineering degree at the University of Wollongong. This involved completing the subjects across all engineering disciplines, and I decided to select Electrical Engineering as I found I was passionate about automation and electrical controls.
When I finished my degree, I made my way to Oberon, working for Borg Manufacturing, where I'd previously completed my work placement whilst studying. The new role was an Instrument Technician, which was a hands-on type of role with training included. After some time, the position was changed more into a software engineer type of role. This utilised my degree more and allowed me to work on SCADA and PLC systems which I found I had a growing passion for.
I worked in Oberon for about a year but applied and got a role at Parkes Shire Council as a Project Engineer in the infrastructure team. My girlfriend is a primary school teacher and got a job at the primary school here in Parkes, so I was keen to follow her back home to Parkes. I also wanted to return to Parkes, as I enjoy its regional living and lifestyle. My new role at Parkes is engaging; when I interviewed for the position, I found that Council was looking for someone with experience and knowledge in SCADA and telemetry, which I had working in Oberon. I find I'm now utilising my knowledge and skills in electrical engineering; projects I'm currently working on include the Council's implementation of smart meters and improvements to automation in some of our processes.
Q: What brought you to work at Parkes Shire Council?
I was keen to follow my girlfriend back to Parkes, both for her and the lifestyle on offer. Having been from Parkes, I also knew plenty was going on at Parkes, and there wouldn't be a shortage of work here. I saw that they were advertising for a role, and the responsibilities piqued my interest as it provided the possibility of working with automation and would allow me to develop my project management skills. I always knew I would come back home eventually, and I have enjoyed working here and serving the community.
Q: What is the best thing about working in a regional area?
I have found that working for a smaller Council means taking on more roles and responsibilities, which is great for building on your experience and personal development as an engineer. It allows you to broaden your knowledge of local government policy and procedures and on projects outside your area of expertise. I also enjoy the lifestyle out here, living in a regional community where communities are more tight-knit and you can explore what regional Australia has to offer.
Parkes Shire Council also has a work experience program for university students from the University of Sydney. This helps Council attract and retain engineers as they start their careers, providing work experience for university students and showing them what a regional Council has to offer. I've found that working with and mentoring them is fulfilling and fun, showing them what I work on and the opportunities available working here.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about working in a regional area?
Working in a regional Council provides more opportunities to pick up more roles and responsibilities, which is great for personal development but can also be more stressful and overwhelming when you are first starting. You get used to it after a while, but it can be a little intimidating at first. Resources can also be lacking in a regional area; they are available, but with less staff and a smaller range of experience, there can be a smaller pool of knowledge. When I first started here, I was worried I wouldn't be able to broaden my electrical experience knowledge here. However, I was lucky that Council was working with various consultants and contractors that I could lean on and learn from. Speaking to the university students that come out here, I have also noticed that there can be fewer support networks, which can be difficult.
Q: What moment/achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
Being new to my career, there isn't anything in particular that stands out. However, I am happy I've been able to move back to Parkes, working and giving back to the local community I grew up in and utilising my degree. The work out here is also engaging, working on Council's key infrastructure, including projects relating to both treatment plants.
Q: If you could go back five years, what advice would you give yourself?
Don't be afraid to ask questions. I was a little tentative about asking questions when I first started, wanting instead to go back and research the answer and find it myself. I find now that it is better to ask the question straight up and that everyone is usually pretty keen to help out and answer my query.
Regional YWPs are making a difference in their local areas and the industry as a whole. If you are a YWP living, working, or studying in a regional area and would like to get involved or share your story, please contact your YWP Committee Regional Representatives. In NSW, these are: