The latest research suggests innovation and diversity go hand in hand. For Zinfra, bringing together different skills, languages and generations to create a diverse employee base is a huge advantage because it allows the company to engage more effectively with the communities it serves. Here, Angela Klepac, National Manager - Power at Zinfra, reflects on her career and overcoming the challenges surrounding diversity in the power industry.
Angela Klepac has been in the power industry for almost 30 years, commencing her career while she was still studying a Bachelor Degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Technology in Sydney. "As I look back on my career I think I have been very fortunate to have worked with some great people and have been involved in some very interesting projects. When I initially started I was given an opportunity to get some work experience in an apprentice training workshop for about six months. At the time I was completing some very manual projects, such as building battery chargers and building a workbench engineers vice (of which I gifted to my dad when I completed). "
After completing her six months’ work experience, Ms Klepac secured a cadetship with the Electricity Commission of New South Wales (today known as TransGrid). "As an undergraduate and a cadet, I spent the next four years working and travelling around NSW working in Power Stations while living in the country. It was here that I really started to be embedded in the Power industry and started learning more about substations and transmission lines ", Ms Klepac said.
"I have worked as a Network System Planning Engineer, I’ve also been a Transmission Line Design Engineer, a Substations High Voltage Design Engineer, an Engineering Manager looking after a group of 70 highly professional engineers, a Procurement Manager and a Project Manager.
"I’ve had many different roles over the last 30 years, and I’ve been quite fortunate because I was given the opportunity to develop and grow as an individual with an organisation that provided diverse areas of work."
Delivering a successful power portfolio
Ms Klepac is currently Zinfra’s National Manager of Power, and her main responsibilities include delivering electrical infrastructure projects for key electrical utility clients and power projects in the transport sector.
"My key role is to establish, develop, and maintain relationships with target clients, developing a collaborative relationship to be able to identify, develop and secure profitable opportunities, as
well as successfully delivering those opportunities. For CY19 the power projects group has a portfolio of over $100 million worth of work."
Ms Klepac loves the challenges of the diverse projects in her portfolio and especially enjoys working with people, where she has a great network that supports her.
"I’ve got a very supportive and technically very strong team that reports to me, that I manage and lead to ensure that we can successfully deliver our projects. They’re all very experienced individuals, and we all respect each other’s ideas and thoughts. I think that’s what makes my working environment so much more enjoyable."
"When I reflect on why it works so well, I think it’s because no-one ever claims to know it all. We understand that we’re subject matter experts in the areas that we’re responsible for, but at the same time we all challenge each other to get the best from each other, and make sure we’ve got the best outcome for the project and for Zinfra. There’s a real underlying respect and a great culture here, and I find that the most enjoyable part of working at Zinfra. "The other thing that I really enjoy is the diversity of work that we deliver. As Zinfra is a national business, all of our clients have their own unique ways of doing things. It’s about having a strong understanding of the industry and our clients work portfolio, and how we can actually assist and support them to deliver safely and efficiently.
"I’m currently working on the Granville Harbour Project, where our key client is TasNetworks. Zinfra and TasNetworks have a well-established relationship that has been nurtured and developed over many years, so it’s very important to me and this project that we manage the relationship in a professional and collaborative manner to not only successfully deliver the Granville Harbour Project but ensure that our existing relationship continues to strengthen and grow. "
Inspiring the next generation
Ms Klepac is proud to see Zinfra building a strong and positive reputation in the market. "People are looking at us as leaders in the design and construction of infrastructure projects. That reputation doesn’t come easy, it’s something you need to focus on, plan for, work hard and earn. It’s not just about communicating with our clients, but communicating internally with our own staff and ensuring we all have the same vision and understand where we are going and how we will reach those goals. "Having high standards and a strong emphasis on safety definitely places us in the best position with our clients. That goes without saying. We can do everything else, but unless safety is there, it’s pointless."
According to Ms Klepac, the market is shifting and young engineers entering the field need to be prepared. "There’s a real drive and increased interest in renewable energy, which is changing the market skill set. We need the technical knowledge to assist us in system network planning, design and procurement and delivery of solar, wind and battery storage projects. There’s also a real demand for capacity and capability to deliver major projects worth over $100 million over the next 2-5 years and longer.
"The young professionals of today need to be able to build their own personal resilience because they will be challenged with difficult situations, whether it be demanding clients, complex projects or solving technical issues. They need the resilience and determination to solve problems, network with other subject matter experts and not walk away from them. The other issue facing us also is the transfer of valuable knowledge gained over many years of experience and the retirement of a mature workforce. How do we ensure that this knowledge management is kept in-house for future generations?
"Ultimately, we need to be positioning ourselves in the market, understanding what the drivers are, continually looking for ways to improve the Power industry. We need to be smart leaders - not just following and accepting status quo. Following becomes too late and you end up missing the boat or just getting it wrong. We need to have strong leadership so we understand how the market is changing and set the future up for the next generation of Power engineers to be successful."
Celebrating different viewpoints
Ms Klepac is mindful that she works in a male-dominated field and that during her 30 year career this has not changed significantly. She is mindful that while we are trying to attract more young women into the field of engineering, that once they have commenced their degrees we need to ensure they are provided with the right support, with mentoring programs being a key part of this.
"I think mentors are extremely valuable. It’s important you find somebody you can actually connect with, someone who is open and trustworthy and can offer you advice from a professional perspective but also someone you can confide in when you need help juggling that work/life balance," Ms Klepac said.
"All my mentors have been really down to earth and always given me honest feedback. They’ve always encouraged me from a professional perspective to reach above and beyond what I could achieve, but they’ve also been very respectful of my own family obligations. They were all male mentors, and they all stood by my side and were my absolute greatest supporters. It’s a funny thing, I still have those mentors from back in the early days when I was just starting out who still ring and ask me how I am going. I am very grateful and thankful that these mentors are still here to support me.
"The demands on women are a lot greater today than they ever were before. My advice would be you’ve got to stay focused on the task and remember you’re there to solve the engineering problem. Don’t give up when the going gets tough, you’ve got to reach out to your peers and other subject matter experts. It’s really important to communicate and build a strong professional network. Don’t expect so much of yourself either. If you end up making a mistake, so what …..don’t be too hard on yourself. Be thankful that you have learnt something new, pick yourself up and keep going and become smarter and stronger."
For Ms Klepac, diversity is about having people in an organisation who can bring about a different way of thinking or a different perspective on doing things while still maintaining a high standard of professionalism in what we have been engaged to do.
" Diversity is about having people in an organisation who can bring about a different way of thinking or a different perspective on the way we do things, they enable us to grow as an organisation to become more open minded , broader in our thinking, and richer in accepting new ways of doing things and thereby encouraging teams to work together in a more diverse way to ensure we have best practices in our work place. It just brings a balance to everything that we do so we don’t get stuck always doing things the same way. You don’t just have one answer or one solution for every problem, sometimes you need to come up with different options to be able to select the best option to resolving the issue," Ms Klepac said.
In my spare time I’ve also had the privilege of being involved for the past ten years with CIGRE (The international council on large electric systems - a global organisation in the field of high voltage electricity) as the Australian Study Committee Convenor for substation, and currently now as a director on the board of CIGRE.
Balance is also essential to meeting the demands of a challenging professional life. Ms Klepac has plenty to keep her busy outside of work, with family being her number one priority.
"What keeps me really balanced in my life is my family, they’re always watching out for me. I love cooking for the family — it just brings everyone back to the table and reminds us of what is important especially as we are a very busy family.
"I take every opportunity I can to squeeze in ten to twenty minutes of reading the newspaper every day. The other thing I like to do is a ‘power’ walk with my husband down by the beach nice and early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s really quite lovely, it allows us to start the weekend by just switching off completely and re-establishing what’s important in life by coming back to family."