IPWG Success Stories of Transitioning Engineers

Two Stories About the Engineers Transitioning from the Automotive Industry to Public Service

The Industry Programs Working Group (IPWG) was established by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training and the SAE-A to promote and help retain the valuable engineering skills of automotive engineers in Victoria after the closure of the OEM assembly plants.

These professional engineers hold qualifications and skill sets that are internationally recognised, are readily transferable, and can be productively utilised across the range of Victoria’s industry sectors.

The IPWG highlights individuals who have already successfully transitioned from automotive to new careers in other industries. The following two articles tell the story of Dale Shallcross at the Victoria Police and Ernie Sachez at EPA Victoria, who both have recently transferred successfully from Automotive into the Public Service sector.

Dale Shallcross - Victoria Police

Dale Shallcross

Senior Project Manager, Victoria Police

Making the move from Automotive to Public Service is not always the easiest task. Dale Shallcross, describes how his journey as an Engineer at GM Holden to becoming Senior Project Manager at the Victorian Police consisted of reflection, language translation and award submission.

Like many others, I began my automotive career as an engineer at GM Holden, with the majority of my 18 years employment in the instrument panel and interior trim department. My first position was in Holden’s Asia-Pacific operations, re-engineering Opel vehicles for manufacture in Thailand, India and Australia. I was involved on the design and build of the Monaro and VY, VE and VF Commodores, as well as North American, Chinese and Global design programs.

I finished up at Holden at the end of 2014. I was lucky enough to know 12 months beforehand that I needed to begin my search for new employment. I used this time to reflect on my skills and training, and to decide on my future direction, now that automotive wasn’t feasible for me and my family. My skills, experience and interests all pointed me to Project Management; it was what I enjoyed doing most.

In that time I was applying for a number of jobs with little progress. I had all the skills of a project manager, yet the companies who received my resume weren’t able to understand the automotive ‘jargon’ I used in my CV. Many industries use different words and phrases to describe the same skill sets. To promote my skills in managing projects, I needed to translate what work I’ve done into ‘Project Management speak’ so that organisations like Victoria Police would have a clear understanding of my experiences and capabilities.

I discovered this when I joined an industry association. As a way of learning, I submitted an entry into a ‘Project Manager of the Year’ award, producing a 30 page submission on my work on the VF Commodore door trim. I was provided with an industry mentor who helped me translate my skills and experience into Project Management language. To my surprise I won the award. It gave me a confidence boost that I was pursuing the right career.

While at Holden, I obtained a Black Belt in Six-Sigma. My ability to think outside the square and find creative, logical solutions has really helped me find a way into the Public Service role. My work in customer focused, large scale projects has given me a holistic and output-oriented management style.

At Victoria Police, I am currently managing the roll-out of Taser devices across regional Victoria. Because it’s a physical product to be delivered, it’s been an easier transition into this new industry, compared to if I was project managing a new business service, or similar.

The Victoria Police is a very big organisation, with over 17,000 employees; around 14,500 of those are police and 2,800 are supporting public servants like myself. There are many people from different walks of life, with various experiences and approaches to work. This is something that has caught me by surprise, as I was used to managing people from mostly an engineering background, who all share similar thought processes and methodologies.

For those looking at moving into a different industry, I recommend giving yourself as much time as possible to reflect on your skills and interests (they might not necessarily be the same!), to research where you want to go and make a plan to get there. I also suggest finding an association in your desired industry; use them to develop and to learn the language of that industry.

Ernie Sanchez - EPA Victoria

Ernie Sanchez

Program Manager, EPA Victoria

The SAE-A interviewed Ernie Sanchez from EPA Victoria, about his experience in transferring from the automotive industry into Public Service. Sanchez’s journey into the environmental and sustainability sector was planned and deliberate; utilising his skills from automotive, his passions and portfolio of continual learning.

Tell us about your experience in the automotive industry? 

I worked in the automotive industry for 18 years, starting at Henderson’s Automotive as a graduate before landing a role at Holden. I have been lucky enough to see the industry from a variety of perspectives with roles such as Design Engineer, Project Engineer, Financial Analyst, Lead Technical Specialist and Engineering Manager. I have even had the opportunity to be a Board Member and Treasurer for the SAE-A.

The toughest project I’ve been involved with was the new Camaro. Apart from being an iconic car, it was a true global program that forced everyone in the organisation to work differently. The challenges of working with people in different continents, timezones and cultures had to be managed carefully. As a project manager, I have not experienced anything as difficult since then.

My most satisfying role was managing Holden’s Closures Engineering team when the VF Commodore was being developed. That team designed and implemented the first aluminium hood and decklid (boot) for an Australian made car. It was a significant achievement that provided real fuel economy gains through mass reduction. It was recognised by industry peers with an SAE-A Gold Award for Engineering Excellence in 2013.

What are the important skills, credentials, and attitudes you gained from the automotive industry?

I believe the most important attitude I gained from the industry is the philosophy of continuous improvement. I have embraced this philosophy at work and in my personal life. This attitude drives me to constantly develop through formal and informal means. Fortunately, the automotive sector provided me with opportunities to develop technical, business and leadership skills through various roles. I also had an employer who accommodated my needs during part time study and supported my desire to supplement my Engineering Degree with an MBA.

How did you get to where you are today?

I had a plan to transition from the automotive industry into the environmental and sustainability sector. This was a deliberate and significant change in direction but I had confidence that my automotive experience would help me. Another enabler for this transition was obtaining my Master of Urban Planning and Environment.

Immediately after leaving Holden, I worked as an Urban Planner in a medium sized Civil Engineering Consultancy. I gained a lot of practical experience in urban planning and the construction and development industry during that time. I have since joined EPA Victoria in a hybrid role as an Urban Planner and Project Manager. I am part of the Major Projects Unit which is tasked with co-ordinating EPA’s work where it relates to complex Victorian infrastructure projects. For example, our unit is currently project managing the activities of various parts of EPA to support the Melbourne Metro Rail Project. Being a public servant working on significant projects for Victoria, and contributing to a better environment, makes this job extremely satisfying.

How has your experience in the Automotive industry has helped you in your current career?

I believe the two groups of skills that have helped me the most in my career since leaving Holden are problem solving and project management.

Although problem solving is a typical skill one would expect from an Engineer, I believe some of the unique characteristics of the Australian market (e.g. high competition, small market size) forced our local industry to be more creative. There is more flexibility and complexity involved in engineering and building locally made cars. The ability to keep an open mind rather than automatically adopting conventional solutions, spending time defining and understanding a problem, performing experiments and making decisions based on real data are approaches that work well in many situations.

The range of project management skills I developed in the automotive industry have also put me in a good position. Skills in areas such as project planning, resource and cost management, stakeholder management and project governance get used daily. I have not yet seen the same intensity of project management rigour applied in other workplaces as I have witnessed in the automotive industry. I’m sure it isn’t unique but it is certainly not common.

There is a lot more I can talk about (such as quality systems, lean operations, benchmarking and best practices) but we may run out of print space. From what I have seen, there is much knowledge that ex-automotive employees can contribute to other sectors.

About EPA.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA Victoria) is part of the environment portfolio (along with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Sustainability Victoria) charged with protecting the Victorian environment. EPA is an administrative office of DELWP and reports to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water.

EPA’s sole role is to regulate pollution and has independent authority to make regulatory decisions under the Environment Protection Act 1970. Based on its regulatory risk model EPA prioritises its compliance and enforcement activity by addressing the biggest risk to the environment and health.

EPA aspires to create a healthy environment that supports a liveable and prosperous Victoria. By effectively regulating pollution in Victoria, we strive to deliver clean air, healthy waterways, safe land and minimal disturbances from noise and odour for Victorians.

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