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Q&A: Talking with Section Leader – Defence Solutions and Advisory, Lia Black

Jacobs’ Section Leader – Defence Solutions and Advisory for Australia and New Zealand, Lia Black talks career, her STEAM heroes and not quite fitting the mold.

Lia Black is an environmental consultant, spatial analyst and experienced project manager. In her 17-year career she has worked on a range of disciplinary environmental projects. As Jacobs Section Leader for Defence Solutions and Advisory across Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), Lia currently leads the solutions and advisory area for Australia’s Defence and Regional Security (DRS )business, looking after technical solutions delivery across estate strategic planning, business case, design, environment/heritage/contamination, digital, security and cost planning.

In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’re connecting virtually with our team of engineering heroes around the world to showcase their careers and how each of them help Jacobs to live up to our promise of Challenging today. Reinventing tomorrow.

For this feature, we talked with Lia about career, the STEAM heroes who inspire her and not quite fitting the mold.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on these days.

My role is quite multi-faceted and diverse which really keeps me interested. The section I lead covers both strategic advisory and design solutions for our defence and regional security clients and we operate across the full spectrum of the project lifecycle from early planning/advisory to the detailed design and cover a diverse range of technical disciplines. I also get to do a combination of project and bid/pursuit work alongside my operational role which is focused on supporting our growth and business planning strategies.

At the moment I am delivering a strategic estate planning project for a major Defence base, supporting my team in a major design pursuit, and establishing governance and delivery processes for a long-term infrastructure program we have just been awarded.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

Working with likeminded, passionate people in the defence portfolio. We have an amazing team where everyone genuinely wants to see our business succeed, and that really motivates me. It is also a team that really looks out for each other and is always happy to jump in and support when someone needs help; as a section leader, getting to watch that is a real privilege.

We’re publishing this article in honor of International Women in Engineering Day and this year’s theme is Engineering Heroes. Who are some of the heroes who inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

Is it clichéd to say your parents?

My mother was a computer programmer/analyst which was still quite unique for a woman in the early 1970s. So much so that they had to create a parental leave policy for her when she was pregnant with me as they wanted to make sure she came back! And my father was an architect. Between the two of them, I think it was maybe a little inevitable I ended up in a STEAM career, especially having seen them manage to balance two careers in this space so well.

They were always strong advocates for my natural interest and ability for science/math, but also definitely supportive of finding a career that I enjoyed. I seem to have inherited my mother’s attention to detail/analytical side and my father’s ability to see the big picture/how it all comes together which is something I think is a real strength of mine and probably part of the reason I have had the successes I have had in my career.  

When you think of engineers or engineering as a hero, what does that mean to you?

I had to really reflect on this as it is not something I have given much thought to. However, in doing so, what struck me is the evolution of how we think of engineering over my time with Jacobs. I spent a lot of my early career outwardly defining myself as a ‘non-engineer’ as it seemed really important to make that distinction working in a very traditional engineering company where you didn’t quite fit the mold as a scientist or planner. I do think things have shifted in recent times and ‘engineering’ is being refined to be more inclusive. I think we now recognize that engineering as a profession can be championed by engineers and non-engineers alike, and that problems of tomorrow will be solved by integrated thinking. That is something that anyone in any discipline can contribute to.

If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

Enjoying time with my young family, spending time outdoors at the beach or camping. I also really prioritise keeping active and scheduling in time for fitness as this keeps my stress levels in check!

Most interesting career moment?

That is a really hard question! ‘Interesting’ for me would mean a time I have needed to learn something or do something differently to ‘they way we have always done it’ and there have been so many of those moments. I have managed bushfire modelling projects, conducted environmental impact assessments for new Air Force aircraft, developed multi-criteria assessments models to assess the economic benefits of shared ‘traditional economic’ and environmental land uses, delivered spatially-driven site suitability analysis for new infrastructure projects, and managed thousands of kilometers of site surveys for the establishment of Australia’s national broadband network.  Often, I wasn’t the subject matter expert in the required discipline but I got to work with really clever people who were, to come up with the solution and deliver a really great outcome for a client (and I got to learn something about their specialty along the way!)

Most proud career moment?

The last 12-18 months in our DRS business. Our business unit was established in early 2020 and has made a real step change in how we win and deliver work for our defence clients. It has been really exciting and humbling to be trusted by the business to make the changes we have and to focus on building a portfolio and team that I am really proud of and really proud to work with every day.

What advice would you give to young professionals?

Your career is a marathon and not a race. I remember in those early years being so concerned about what was coming next, how to best prove myself or be recognized for my achievements to ‘make it to the next level’. Thinking like that is a really easy way to burn yourself out or to set yourself up for disappointment when maybe others don’t see you the way you see yourself. Focus on what you can control, embrace new opportunities and do the things that frighten you because that is where you will find that growth. Make sure you have people around you that will give you that little push when you need it because they believe in you (and hopefully will be there to make sure you succeed!). 

People would be surprised to know that I….

I have only ever worked for Jacobs and its predecessor, SKM. This might seem strange to some but really during my almost 17 years I have had so many different roles that I have never felt stale (and this is from someone that gets bored really easily!) There has always been that next opportunity to do something different or be challenged which has meant that 7-year itch never quite strikes!

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?

The people. I have worked with some of my colleagues for 17+ years and they really are the glue that hold it all together. The people that won’t let you work alone until midnight when a bid is due or tell you to go home when they can see that you need a break from a project. The people that advocate for you when you are not in a room, or that say yes when you ask for help. Let’s face it, none of us would stay in a job, no matter how good, if we didn’t work with great people!

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.

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