In this edition of Utility, we bring you the first in a series of interviews with women working in the utility sector. In our first profile of women who are making a name for themselves in the industry, we meet Julia Johns, a Project Engineer at City West Water.
Julia began her career at a consultancy in the UK, where she initially trained as a hydraulic modeller. In this role, Julia was involved in a number of projects won from the local water authority. Following a downturn in work, Julia was transferred to the highways department, where she worked in the design team. Shortly into this move Julia was sent on a secondment to the Highways Agency to help get a significant project through a number of stage gate reviews. It was after this project that Julia made the move to Australia, where she began contracting for VicRoads and from there moved to City West Water.
Can you tell us about your current role at City West Water?
I am currently working with the commissioning team at the West Werribee Salt Reduction Plant during its final stages of construction. This plant is a new treatment facility which will provide recycled water from the Melbourne Water Western Treatment Plant and supply it to residential properties and recreational areas in the newly developing suburbs to the west of Melbourne.
How did you get your start in the utility sector?
I found the hydraulic aspects of my degree interesting and so opted to carry out a related dissertation, which in turn led me towards my first job in the water industry.
What are the main things you enjoy about working in the utility sector?
In City West Water I enjoy the variety of work that we carry out. I have been lucky enough to get involved in a number of areas of the Engineering Department. I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that we provide such a vital service to our customers which affects their everyday life.
What are some of the main challenges involved in working in the utility sector?
Due to the vital service provided, it is essential to maintain good service levels. The main challenge is balancing the work required to enable the required service levels to be met, whilst creating minimal disruptions to the customers and ensuring value for money.
What are some of the main challenges facing City West Water at the moment? What opportunities will arise from these challenges?
Currently City West Water is undergoing a ‘Fairer Water Bills’ review – which is an initiative to ensure customers are getting the best rates possible. This will result in the need to identify ways to get more value added for the work we do. These challenges should encourage more forward-thinking and efficient processes, making use of technology, and for City West Water, a chance to be at the forefront of the water industry.
Can you tell us about some of the mentors you have had throughout your career?
I have been very lucky in that I have had someone that I can call a mentor in each of my roles. Each time I have been ‘taken under the wing’ by someone that is passionate about their work with a wealth of experience to share. These mentors range from the ‘old school’ engineer who preferred to do hand calculations rather than embrace technology, to the highly focused, driven technophile.
Can you tell us about some of the women who have inspired you by their work in the utility sector?
Honestly I haven’t come across a large number of women in the utility sector so far; however those that I am familiar with are all inspirational in certain ways. They all seem to have similar characteristics in that they are strong, very hardworking and seem to be very knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. These are all characteristics which I hold in high regard.
You are relatively new to the water industry in Australia, but you have also worked in the roads sector in the UK. How do the two compare? Can you tell us a bit about the aspects of each industry that you enjoyed most and least?
In my experience, they are both very similar. Having worked in the water industry and the highways sector in both the UK and Australia, the only real differences that I have noticed is the more relaxed and friendly atmosphere in Australia. In terms of industry comparison, I believe that the water industry has devoted more to innovation and development than what I have experienced in the highways sector. For example, the Water Services Association of Australia always has improvement programs underway, with a large proportion of the water industry actively participating. I value being part of an industry that is always striving to improve.
Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such male-dominated sectors – have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?
In the past I have felt that I have not been taken as seriously as my male counterparts. However, I feel that on the whole I have probably gained more opportunities due to my gender. Occasionally I have noticed a change in attitude due to the presence of a female, particularly with subcontractors, and this is most often a courteous improvement.
Do you see yourself continuing to work in the water or other utility sectors?
Whilst I do enjoy variety and a new challenge, I believe that there are plenty of opportunities and new challenges within the water industry itself. I feel committed to the industry and hope to contribute to its future development.
Can you provide a bit of background on your life outside of work – any hobbies or interests you care to mention? Any activities you enjoy to balance the demands of a challenging professional life?
I enjoy all sports, anything with some competition to it! I have been playing hockey for a number of years now – it is an exhilarating team sport with great stress-relieving qualities. In addition to this I do enjoy travelling and seeing new places around the world.
Julia’s current focus – West Werribee Salt Reduction Plant
The West Werribee Salt Reduction Plant is part of the West Werribee Dual Water Supply Project, which will deliver high quality, Class A recycled water and drinking water to housing estates in the Werribee area, to Melbourne’s west as well as to a number of open spaces managed by Wyndham City Council.
The recycled water will come from Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, where it will be further treated and sent to homes and open spaces in the Werribee area through a dedicated recycled water system.
In the early stages of the West Werribee project, it was determined that the wastewater from the Western Treatment Plant contained too much salt and was therefore not suitable for irrigation use. As a result, the project required the addition of a new salt reduction plant at the Werribee Treatment Plant site.
Construction of the salt reduction plant is now nearing completion and commissioning of the plant recently started.