The Gold Coast is a global tourism hotspot and home to more than 550,000 people, so managing water operations here is no simple task. As part of the team overseeing the operations of the city’s network, Kent Weeden and Ben Pennell certainly have their work cut out for them. The pair was acknowledged for their efforts at the Water Industry Operator’s Association’s recent Queensland event: Mr Weeden was named Operator of the Year (Civil/All Rounder) and Mr Pennell was named Young Operator of the Year.

Utility caught up with Mr Weeden and Mr Pennel to discuss their roles in making sure water operations run smoothly on the Gold Coast.

Ben Pennell (Left) and Kent Weeden.

Ben Pennell (Left) and Kent Weeden.

Kent Weeden

My role is Civil Works Supervisor and I currently manage a team of 45. Depending what happened the night prior, a standard day will start with plenty of phone calls.

Those calls can range from a training issue, to a tricky construction problem. With a large group there are always issues to address, both personal and work based.

So I am wearing different hats straight up most days. I also have plenty of calls and emails from consultants, project managers and payroll department, just to name a few.

We have some large infrastructure projects on the move at the moment, the Commonwealth Games are here on the Gold Coast in 2018 so this means major upgrades of existing infrastructure are required, and we are implementing plenty of new projects too.

We are currently restructuring our teams to ensure we comply with the City of Gold Coast’s new Fatigue Management Policy, which can be interesting times for a true 24/7 business.

We also have been gaining plenty of strong accreditations for our field staff. The Water Industry Worker Program has been building for five years now and gives field staff an opportunity to be recognised for their experience and learn skills, which in turn provides them with a National accreditation from Cert II to Diploma.

One of the biggest challenges of recent years has been ongoing business change. In the last six years we went from Gold Coast Water (GCW), a business unit within Gold Coast City Council, then as a result of State Government water reform we became Allconnex Water – a regional water utility which was then dissolved after a couple of years.

We are now back as a directorate within the City of Gold Coast. New process, new systems, policies and procedures – just as we work out how to efficiently implement these changes it’s time to learn something new, so we’ve certainly been kept on our toes!

It’s amazing that in that time our role and responsibility for supplying safe drinking water to the community can be done so many different ways.

Another big challenge is the “changing of the guard”. I have been here for 24 years and continue to witness some really experienced old chaps leaving in addition to welcoming exciting young staff joining the industry. Plenty of long term planning is required for a smooth transition.

Finally, one of the biggest changes I have witnessed is safety culture. What use to be deemed as “just blokes leaning on shovels” has turned into one of the most highly regulated industries there is.

There are plenty of documented risk assessments for every task we do to help keep us accountable for the safety of ourselves and others.

Like most large water businesses there is always lots going on. We are about to welcome more internal changes which will see approximately 100 staff from waste and resource management and catchment management amalgamate with the water directorate.

There have been plenty of suggestions for the new directorate name, so watch this space!

New technologies have been met with mixed emotions from our staff. All of our crew members who work out in the field now utilise iPads.

Crews receive work orders via that device and a new requirement for them is to log job progress with real time data so customers are always kept up­to­date with the latest information.

The young guys love new technology but most of the older guys, well, let’s just say they’re not as excited! Some other new types of technologies such as condition assessment tools are really starting to gain traction. Ultrasonics, smart ball, intelligent pigs, electronic metering, the list goes on.

CCTV and sonding has come a long way too; sewer rats and or bats have a place too.

I am hoping that in the next ten years, all people that work in a water business will have an accreditation, no matter what your role.

Also I envisage that there will be young people flocking to the industry because they will see it’s an industry that will be here forever, and it really is a fine career choice.

There are just so many options depending on your skill set and area of interest. No matter how the world evolves, people will still turn on their tap and expect clean, safe water to come out.

There will be more refined and efficient treatment plants, further regulations…and I will be retired!

Ben Pennell

My day generally starts off with me on the phone organising crews with my colleagues and field staff. Similar to Kent, it revolves around making sure we have someone covering our priority one response areas, North and South.

I then allocate work to the crews through a software platform called Systems, Applications and Products (SAP) and analyse missing data and reports.

I attend several meetings, in particular around safety and safety improvements within the organisation.

I also discuss problems with field staff directly related to SAP and iPad utilisation, and discuss with managers ways to improve effectiveness.

I also help trial mobile platforms and functionality for corporate programs such as ‘Airwatch’ and ‘People Plus’.

We are currently working on SAP optimisation within the organisation. This will hopefully improve data quality within the organisation so management can make better decisions based around what is happening in the field.

The Commonwealth Games in 2018 has created a big drive for preventative maintenance and condition assessments on water, sewerage and recycled water infrastructure.

In order to achieve a positive outcome, our branch is collaborating with various industry professionals and other directorates within the City of Gold Coast to develop ways of capturing the data and making it end­user friendly.

An example of this would be during the Commonwealth Games and urban precinct developments in our major city hubs.

While certain sites are being excavated, we are replacing old, redundant water services that would normally be repaired or replaced at a separate time. T
his has improved cost efficiencies across the organisation.

As Kent mentioned, the biggest challenge I have experienced was the journey we all took transferring from Gold Coast Water, to Allconnex, and then integrating back into Council again as a water directorate.

The other big challenge I experienced was the integration of our work processes into the SAP works management system.

In the past, a piece of paper with a street address was sufficient to get a job done. Now it is all now integrated together online, from our receipting and procurement function through to works management (such as repairs and acquiring correct materials for the job).

Everything is so regulated and documented these days and it has been a challenge to lead the team in this direction.

We are currently assessing over 34,000 water hydrants on the water network, 8,000­10,000 sewer manholes, more than 200km of CCTV survey for gravity sewer mains, plus relining works.

We are also performing a lot of industry leading condition assessments such as stress concentration tomography assessments, acoustic and internal inspections. The is all in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.

As a business we are utilising a lot more mobile platforms such as iPads and touchscreens, which is having a big impact on how we operate.

We’ve also seen improvements through improved tollage, such as hydraulic manhole crackers, condition assessment tools such as stress concentration tomography, acoustic and internal condition assessment technologies, and mobile spatial data surveying tools that integrate directly with GIS.

The CLIQ key technology currently being used to provide contractors access to our active sites has also been a particularly beneficial innovation.

I hope the industry will continue to evolve, utilising technology a lot more effectively than in the past. The changing culture for safety will also continue to grow and improve with younger generations adopting a very safety conscious mentality.

I also see the industry utilising integration technologies a lot more where many facets of the business will be updated in real time not the old paper trail way.

Utility Journalist

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