Inspire : Public Works July Aug 2014
14 Public Works Professional July-August 2014 Can you tell us about your early years as an engineer? I always liked maths and physics, so I studied civil engineering at the University of Tasmania from 1967--70. This was followed by a period working in str uctural design and geotechnical engineering with the Public Works Department, and then with the Department of Main Roads working on road and bridge construction. When was your rst foray into the private sector? I spent the decade from 1985 to 1996 building my own business, called LPH Consulting, which employed 70 staff by 1995. In 1996, LPH Consulting merged with Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM). SKM didn't have a strong presence in Tasmania at the time, so we created the footprint for SKM there, if you like. During that period, in 1988, I also established the Beacon Foundation towards overcoming youth unemployment. I put Beacon on the table as part of the merger deal with SKM and said if you're going to take LPH Consulting, you have to take this too. The then-Chief Executive agreed to do that, and SKM became very supportive as a company -- particularly as Beacon started to spread into other parts of the country. SKM offered ofﬁce accommodation to Beacon staff around Tasmania, which is something they still provide. You spent the last 18 years of your career with Sinclair Knight Merz (now Jacobs). What did your time there involve? I spent the ﬁrst ﬁve or six years from 1996 building up SKM's local government practice throughout Australia and New Zealand as more and more councils were outsourcing work to the private sector. Then, in about 2003, I was given responsibility for developing the company's strategic performance in the Indigenous sector -- that is, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country. That in turn led to an invitation to set up the company's Corporate Social Responsibility program in about 2007--08. That was a global role, establishing how the company was going to put back into the community in a more strategic way, including Indigenous Australia but also Beacon, Engineers without Borders, Oxfam, etc. I stayed in that role right up until I retired from SKM at the end of 2013. You remain Chair of the Beacon Foundation. Could you expand on what the Foundation does and what chain of events lead to its establishment? The main catalyst was fr ustration with the government's inability to handle generational welfare dependence, particularly with young people leaving school. Too many kids were being wasted on the dole, with future aspirations only to go onto the dole. Governments then and still today too often only focus on consequences not causes, whereas Beacon focuses entirely on the cause. That is what an engineer is supposed to do -- spend time understanding the cause of a problem and design something to deal with it, or to interface with it. So, Beacon was set up to ﬁnd and examine the causes of youth unemployment and ways of cutting it off upstream rather than just dealing with the consequences. Between 2000 and 2003 we were able to set Beacon up throughout Australia, and SKM was pivotal to that with the merger in 1996. I was also able to bring together my engineering career with my not-for-proﬁt work, for which I was very fortunate. What are your plans for the future? I plan to put my time and energy primarily into the Indigenous space and as Chair of the Beacon Foundation. In 2010 Julia Gillard also put me on her expert panel for constitutional recognition, so coming up to the referendum in 2015--16 I'll be up to my armpits in that work. If you could o er just one piece of advice to a young public works professional, what would it be? Think about the community you ser ve. It's not just roads and water and sewerage; it’s bigger than that. ••• BILL LAWSON The bigger picture Bill Lawson recently retired from a long and successful career in public works. But he is a long way off retiring his other passion, which is to help get disadvantaged young people off welfare dependency and into the workforce. MY CAREER It's not just roads and water and sewerage, it's bigger than that. DOITONOUR ONLINE FORUMS: Visit goo.gl/Zo0MAE to discuss this article. MORE TO ADD?
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