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Spotlight on a Regional YWP: Steve Adamthwaite

Steve Adamthwaite – NSW / ACT Water Business Leader at Arup

We continue our series of Regional Young Water Professional Spotlight articles, with an interview with Steve Adamthwaite who works for Arup. The intention of the Spotlight articles is to form a series highlighting the experiences and contributions our regional members make to their industry and communities. 

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do.
I lead Arup’s water business in NSW / ACT which means I lead external engagement with our clients and collaborators, manage our commercial performance, as well as deliver projects. I  work primarily on strategy and advisory work within the water sector, working on projects such as justifying investment through business cases and working towards a low carbon future by helping utilities and councils define their strategic goals and how they can take actionable steps to get there. 

I lead projects that drive water strategies centred on implementing sustainable, community-oriented solutions and delivering the best levels of service and infrastructure for the community and industry. I would describe the projects I work on as having been technically solved for 50 years and help them strategically get across the line due to issues like funding and community sentiment.

In terms of my life outside of work, I grew up near a gold and copper mine in a small town outside of Orange, in Western NSW and went to an even smaller school for K – 12 Molong Central School, which less than 500 kids in total. Throughout this time, I lived off tank water and experienced first-hand the issue of water security. After school in Molong, I attended the University of Newcastle to study Chemical Engineering and have since remained in Newcastle. In my spare time, I pat lots of dogs, eat lots of food and watch lots of TV and movies and am learning a musical instrument.

Q: What brought you to work at Arup?
Firstly, it was the people at Arup. Before joining Arup, I had worked with a good number of Arupians through AWA and as a client and I was impressed by all of them. Arup is member owned, so every employee has a say in the way we manage our company and share in the profits. We aren’t shareholders or owners so we can’t increase our stake or own more than anyone else at our level, so it really drives an equitable culture.

Arup’s commitment to sustainable development and the ability to leverage and learn from the truly global and multidisciplinary network of 18,000 designers, advisors, and experts to achieve this has been one of the key things that propelled me to join.

The real bonus for me is every day I get to work with people who really impressed me early on and I also get to work on some really cool and diverse projects, both within my local community and internationally.

In addition, Arup’s approach to flexible working arrangements has given me the opportunity to live and work in a regional area while having a state role and an international influence. The ability to choose to live beyond the big city and feel connected to a regional area has been important to me.

Q: What is the best thing about working in a regional area?
Connection to community. I am a really active member of my local community, and I can connect with the people around me in a way I couldn’t in a metro area. The lifestyle that comes with with living in a regional area allows me to have a better work life balance as it’s important to love what you do and have a holistic life that you enjoy outside of work.

I am really proud to live in Newcastle and be a part of the journey that the city is going on. When I moved here, it was at the beginning of a transition with lots of empty shop fronts and areas of the city you didn’t go in after dark. That has really changed, and it has been great to be part of a regional area that is going through that change whilst also being able to not be overwhelmed by it.

There is also something about the experience of living in a rural or regional area that is universal. I believe you experience things like water security, access to critical services and infrastructure in a very different way and it makes you appreciate those things even more. I think this also makes me more empathetic in my work with rural, remote, and regional communities because I have lived and worked in similar situations which makes me think through solutions with a different lens.    

Q: What is the most difficult thing about working in a regional area?
The train to Sydney…but I’m starting to embrace the reception dead spots and lack of power outlets to take some time out to separate from work. I will still be very glad when there is a more efficient public transport option in the (near) future!

Sometimes it is difficult to balance the want to do something in person or face to face against the time or inconvenience to do it – COVID has obviously changed the way we work but that mix is always a hard balance. 

The connection to technical learning in regional areas is always difficult – with most seminars and conferences being in the capitals. This has been something that we have been actively working to improve at the AWA and we are getting some positive feedback, especially from those in remote areas. 

Q: What moment/achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
Being awarded the Future Infrastructure Leader of the Year by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia was one of my proudest moments. This was a proud moment because it highlights the significant influence and impact water professionals have creating a diversified, secure, and resilient water supply across Australia and internationally.

A project that I am particularly proud to have been part of was one where I led a team to help restore clean drinking water to over 200,000 people in Timor-Leste’s capital city after a cyclone in April 2021. I was the Project Manager of the Independent Technical Review of the Emergency Response Project, coordinating Civil, Structural, Pipeline and Geotechnical experts and undertaking the contract, technical specification, and environmental management review myself.
Being a mentor has also been an important part of my professional career. During my career and as student, I’ve had fantastic mentors and benefitted from the work of other various committees; therefore, I have wanted to make sure that support continued for those who are entering the industry now. Over the last six or seven years I have mentored 12 people and I’ve been proud to see them go on to have a significant impact in committees, policy making and projects and generally blossom. 

Q: If you could go back five years, what advice would you give yourself?
Five years ago, I had just joined Hunter Water but reflecting on it now, I wish I had become involved in the water industry earlier. The industry is a great place to be because it’s so diverse in its scope, you can find a place that suits your interests and is a fit for you. I would also tell myself, lean into the water industry, there’s room for innovation and innovative ideas can ultimately benefit populations over decades and shift how regions achieve water resilience and water security in the future.  

Develop your networks as they are invaluable for your future career is something I would also tell myself. The engineering industry is a small world and there are so many interesting things happening that you never know what opportunities will come from your networks. These opportunities might not appear immediately, but I have been able to get a new job, new committees, contributed to initiatives like papers on climate change at COP26 and have learnt from people who have become lifelong friends.

Regional YWP’s 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:
Trevor Sultana |
Brendan Dagg |