Continuing our series of interviews with women working in utilities, in this edition we profile Melanie Dunnill, a graduate engineer working at TransGrid.
Melanie started working for TransGrid in 2006 as an apprentice communications technician at the Yass depot. Upon completion of her apprenticeship Melanie applied and was awarded the Managing Director’s Scholarship, which is an internal scholarship awarded to apprentices who excel at their studies and have shown leadership at work.
In 2010 Melanie moved to Sydney to commence her degree, during which she completed work experience in a number of different groups within TransGrid, including projects, high voltage design, regulation, network planning, system planning and protection design. Melanie enjoyed working in the protection design team so much that she returned to the team following the completion of her degree.
Can you tell us about your current role at TransGrid?
Currently I’m working as a graduate in the protection and metering design group. I’ve been in this role for a year now. This role involves preparing and issuing design work for the protection and metering systems within TransGrid.
A major project that I’m involved with is the protection and metering designs for the rebuild of Vales Point Substation. As a graduate, the most challenging aspect of this job is learning how all the protection systems work for the various pieces of equipment in the substation. There is so much to learn and every job has different factors that need to be accounted for in your design. Thankfully the team that I work in, as well as my mentor, are all very experienced and knowledgeable about protection systems and have provided me with guidance and technical information when needed.
How did you get your start in the energy sector?
I had never actually considered a career in the energy sector when I was at school. I knew that I enjoyed maths and science, but I had planned on becoming an accountant. However, I saw an ad for apprenticeships at TransGrid and one was for a communications technician at Yass. My parents encouraged me to apply (my Dad is also a communications technician) and I so did and was offered the job. I thought that I’d try it out and if I didn’t like it I could always go study accounting, but I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. Incidentally, I did manage to complete my Bachelor of Accounting at the same time as I completed my Bachelor of Engineering.
What are the main things you enjoy about working in the utility sector?
One of the best things is the variety of work, not only across the sector but within individual roles. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to work in a wide variety of roles within TransGrid, and will continue to get more experience in the different sectors whilst on the graduate program.
What are some of the main challenges involved in working in the utility sector?
For TransGrid, system reliability is vital; no one wants the lights to go out. One of the biggest challenges is meeting reliability standards whilst remaining cost effective. With rising electricity prices being a big issue in the last few years it’s especially important to ensure that we deliver the most cost effective solutions.
What are some of the main challenges facing TransGrid at the moment? What opportunities will arise from these challenges?
At the moment, I think there is some uncertainty about whether TransGrid will be privatised, either wholly or partially. However, it could open up new business opportunities, which I think is exciting for someone with an engineering and financial background.
Can you tell us about some of the mentors you’ve had throughout your career?
TransGrid has formal mentoring programs for apprentices, trainees and graduates as well as a young professionals program. As such, through my different roles I’ve always had a formal mentor for on the job training as well as guidance and support. In addition I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of people who are always happy to help and share their extensive knowledge.
Can you tell us about some of the women who’ve inspired you by their work in the utility sector?
I don’t particularly have certain women that inspire me as such; I tend to be inspired by a range of people. The people that probably inspire me the most though, are the people who are extremely knowledgeable about their particular specialisation as well as about the industry in general. I also admire people who are hardworking and are also just genuinely nice and friendly people.
Can you give us some insight into your experience working in a male-dominated sector – have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?
To be honest I don’t think that working in a male-dominated sector presents any more challenges than working in a female-dominated sector or a sector that has an even gender ratio. I think it mainly comes down to the culture of your organisation as well as your own attitudes. We have a pretty good and diverse culture here at TransGrid, so gender has never really been an issue. Yes I’ve had some negative experiences, I’m not going to lie, but I’ve always felt that any negative attitudes about my gender is their issue, not mine, and so I don’t take it on board. Overall I’ve had a really positive experience working here.
Do you see yourself continuing to work in the electricity and/or other utility sectors?
I definitely see myself continuing to work in the electricity sector in one form or another. However, if a great opportunity presented itself outside the electricity or utility sector then I would definitely go for it.
Melanie recently participated in the ‘Women in Engineering Summit’ at the University of Wollongong in January 2015. During the week-long event, Melanie acted as a group leader, mentoring the next generation of young women in engineering and sharing her recent experiences as an engineer with TransGrid.