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ICE president talks skills shortage and climate change in Australasia

26 July 2023

During his visit to Australia and New Zealand, Keith Howells engaged with local members and learned about the countries’ objectives.

ICE president talks skills shortage and climate change in Australasia
The Australasia presidential visit started in Perth, Australia.

First stop: Australia

In Perth...

My visit to Australasia, accompanied by the ICE director of regions, Wendy Blundell, started in Perth with an informal briefing over dinner with Matt Jewell, regional chair, and Chris Grant, an ICE representative.

A round table with ICE fellows and members living and working in Perth was held in Aecom’s offices. It provided an overview of the issues, challenges and opportunities in Western Australia.

We discussed how the state is grappling with population growth and climate change - particularly the transition to renewable energy through wind and solar, and the water resource shortage.

Improvements in desalination

About half of the city’s drinkable water is derived from desalination.

This is expected to rise to 70% in the next few years with additional production facilities in train.

The technology for desalination is improving and leading to greater energy efficiency and lower costs per unit of production.

Engaging with local members and students

western australia local association meeting
ICE President Keith Howells met with the Western Australia Local Association.

We met with committee members over lunch to hear about their activities.

In the evening, we hosted a reception for civil engineering students from Curtin University with the aim of encouraging them to become members.

The following morning, we held a presidential breakfast and keynote address with around 40 guests including some of the region’s key decision makers.

Topics included decarbonisation, resilience and productivity.

We also discussed Western Australia’s role in helping to drive the energy transition, given its mineral resources base including lithium, copper, nickel and cobalt.

Thanks to Matt and Chris and other members of the Western Australia Local Association for arranging the visit.

In Melbourne...

In Melbourne, we had breakfast with the Victoria Local Association Committee to hear about its activities.

This was followed by a meeting with Engineers Australia to discuss mutual recognition issues, the Washington Accord, and broader areas for collaboration.

In conversation

This was followed by an ‘influencers’ lunch’ at the British Consulate, organised by Jonathon Chew, Victoria Committee vice-chair, and Anthony Bennett, an ICE representative.

In attendance were a mix of key clients for some of the major highway and rail projects, one of the major infrastructure investors, and the British Consul General.

We discussed issues related to productivity, skills shortages, and climate change.

We also talked about the potential impacts of the recently signed UK/Australia Free Trade Agreement and AUKUS (the defense treaty between Australia, the UK and the USA).

We then made a short stop in Mott MacDonald’s office to present the ICE strategy and answer questions from the staff.

Hearing about challenges and opportunities

ice president panel forum melbourne
Keith Howells held a presidential panel forum in Melbourne.

In the evening, we held a presidential panel forum with speakers from Laing O’Rourke (contractors), GHD (consultants), Plenary (investors) and Melbourne University.

We looked at the challenges and opportunities for infrastructure and civil engineering in Victoria.

We heard about some of the industry productivity issues and skills shortages as well as the ongoing research work at the university which is aimed at reducing carbon in construction.

Thanks to Jonathan and Anthony, as well as to David Tait and Stephen Wells for organising the programme.

In Sydney...

The principal event in Sydney was the annual ICE New South Wales (NSW) dinner, a lively affair with over 150 guests.

Apart from my presidential address, we also heard from Pinsent Masons on the benefits of using NEC.

We were entertained by a magician who selected Dan Powrie, delivery director for Sydney Metro West, as her assistant – much to the amusement of many in the room from the Sydney Metro supply chain.

Project visits

We visited two major construction sites at different stages of completion:

  • the Bays station on the Metro West line where construction of the tunnels recently begun following the completion of the diaphragm walls for the station box
  • the Barangaroo station on the Metro City and South-West Line which is at an advanced stage of fit-out

Thanks to Dan Powrie and to Claire Moore, construction director for Barangaroo Station - both of Transport NSW - for orchestrating these visits.

We held a lunch meeting in the Opera House with Carol Hopper, executive director at Transport for NSW, who’s leading the renewal of Circular Quay, Sydney’s iconic gateway to the harbour.

We also visited the NSW Hydraulic Research Laboratories where we heard about some of the ongoing work on flood management and ecological restoration of mangrove swamps and salt grass marshes, as well as some of the physical modeling work.

This included modeling of a new spillway for a dam to cope with expected higher flood flows due to climate change, defenses against coastal erosion due to sea level rise, and a novel fish pass.

What’s next in transport?

We met with Howard Collins, Secretary for Transport for NSW - Acting, to discuss the issues facing the transport sector.

This includes the ongoing development of Sydney’s public transport system, the transition towards renewable energy, and the use of technology to manage traffic flows.

Discussing climate adaptation

We held a round table event at Aurecon’s offices which focused on ‘Future climate adaptation for Sydney’s infrastructure’ considering environmental, social, and economic issues.

Thanks to Rachel Fowler, ICE representative for New South Wales, Lani Tan, NSW committee member, and Adam Gaffney, ICE chair for the NSW Local Association, for arranging the programme.

Next stop: New Zealand

In Wellington...

In Wellington, New Zealand, we were up at dawn to attend a Matariki powhiri, a ceremony to welcome the Māori New Year.

It was organised by a major land development and social housing project (Te Aranga Alliance), in Porirua, north of Wellington.

This included story telling about the arrival in New Zealand of the Māori peoples – particularly the local iwi (tribe) Ngāti Tao from Tahiti - as well as singing about the stars of the Pleiades which herald the Māori New Year.

Community engagement and sustainable development

porirua new zealand
Porirua is in north Wellington, New Zealand.

Following this we met with leaders of the alliance to hear about the Te Ao Maori approach to infrastructure development, in the context of the project in Porirua.

We heard about the Māori values regarding land, water and people, and how those values are shaping infrastructure.

This visit was a unique opportunity to see how community engagement and consideration of the environment leads to more sustainable development solutions.

Collaborating on climate resilience

We met with Engineering New Zealand (ENZ) to share thoughts on the challenges of climate change (principally cyclones, floods, and landslides in NZ), and discuss areas of potential collaboration.

We also learnt of the impending legislation regarding registration and licensing of engineering professionals, and the process ENZ use for its mid-career reviews of chartered engineers.

We ended the day with a social event for ICE members and fellows living in the Wellington area to hear about the issues they were facing and how the ICE might support them.

Thanks to Robert White, Sam Best, Sarah Dye and Andy Goldie for organising this leg of the visit.

In Auckland...

In Auckland, we met with the ICE Committee for lunch to compare notes regarding infrastructure development in NZ vs UK.

New Zealand has been hit with serious flooding in the last two years.

A major cyclone earlier this year resulted in landslides and bridge washouts on roads and railway lines, which are going to require significant investment to fix over the next few years.

We held a round table with ICE fellows in the afternoon at the British Consulate to update them on ICE activities and discuss the Enabling Better Infrastructure programme.

We also sought their perception of how Engineering New Zealand’s mid-career review policy was working in practice.

At this event, we also had the opportunity to present Matt Harris, a recent successful applicant, with his fellowship certificate and fellows’ pin.

matt harris fellowship
ICE President Keith Howells presenting ICE Fellow Matt Harris with his fellowship certificate.

This was followed by a very convivial fellows’ dinner.

Local engagement

The next morning, we visited a school in Auckland to see the recently launched Bridges to Schools’ programme in action, which is supported by local sponsorship and ICE volunteers.

This was followed by lunch with the Engineers New Zealand President, Glen Cornelius, and Ceinwen McNeil, President of ACE in New Zealand.

We then visited the University of Auckland laboratories where we learned about their ongoing work on tsunami and earthquake modeling.

The evening ended with a social event for members and fellows working in and around Auckland, hosted by Mott MacDonald.

A huge thank you to the NZ Committee for their support and hospitality, especially Robert White, ICE Council member, Sam Best, chair of the ICE NZ Committee, and Matt Thompson, ICE representative for NZ.

The importance of knowledge sharing

Overall, the visit to Australasia had a packed programme with excellent engagement with local members and fellows who are doing a great job in supporting the ICE in their regions.

We also met with key decision makers and set out what the ICE is doing in terms of policy and knowledge sharing to improve infrastructure outcomes.

Once again, a huge thank you to everyone we met for their warm welcome and enthusiastic support of the ICE.

  • Keith Howells, president 2022/23 at Institution of Civil Engineers