Local Government Magazine
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A perfect career mistake

Lorraine Kendrick is the manager Project Delivery (Major Capital Works) at Waipa District Council and was previously manager Water Services. She talks with Mary Searle Bell about becoming an engineer by “mistake”.
Growing up in Belfast, Ireland, Lorraine was educated at an all-girls Catholic school. There, the focus was on turning out secretaries and the nuns didn’t quite know what to do with the girl who loved maths and science. Fortunately for Lorraine, a careers advisor suggested she try engineering.

She chose to do an honours degree in civil engineering at the University of Ulster, although admits she didn’t really know what she was applying for. However, she soon found out, and it came as a bit of a shock to the system. 

“I went from an all-girls school to attending lectures with all boys – the only other girl in our class dropped out after three months,” she says. 

“Our first lecture on civil engineering materials was on concrete, which I wasn’t expecting at all, and I wondered what I had signed up for.

“But I have to say, choosing engineering was one of the best mistakes I have ever made!”

A Chartered and International Professional Engineer, Lorraine graduated with a BEng (Hons) in Civil Engineering from the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland in 1999.

Lorraine’s degree also included a diploma in industrial studies with Ferguson & Mcllveen consultancy engineers to gain in-the-field experience. After she graduated, she returned to the company as a graduate engineer.

A few years later she moved to Dublin, where she got work at Clifton Scannell and Emerson Associates and tackled both structural and civil engineering. That was when she met a Kiwi on his OE. He “kidnapped” her and brought her to New Zealand, with the intention of living here for just a year. However, 17 years later the couple is still down under.

Her first role in New Zealand was with Beca in its Wellington office, later transferring to the firm’s Hamilton office. It was then that the couple was due to return to Ireland, but their plans changed, and the trip was shortened from forever to only seven months. So, before flying out, Lorraine secured a role at Waipa District Council for her return. 

“I wasn’t really sure what the job was – it was a new role in the council as a services engineer,” she says. “All my experience had been in consultancies, tackling big jobs. I assumed I’d be working on smaller engineering jobs with limited opportunities for development at the council. I thought I’d give it a year, meet a few people and then go back into a consultancy.

“I was wrong on all counts,” she confesses.

In Waipa, Fonterra takes up to 40 percent of the district’s water supply, and with just a few smaller towns, the district is very much a rural one. As a result, it has numerous water and wastewater treatment plants, of different types, spread throughout the region.

“Waipa is a growth council – we have a lot of big projects on, especially in the three waters space,” she says. “We’re upgrading water and wastewater treatment plants and pipelines and extending the supplies to new growth areas. Alongside this there is lots going on in the roading and community services areas.”

Over her 14 years with the council, Lorraine has moved through a number of different jobs – from design engineer, to roles in strategic infrastructure planning for both waters and roading, and manager water services. She worked across all disciplines as manager, project delivery, and has been responsible for overseeing all the council’s big projects.

Currently Lorraine is responsible for leading a team of project managers and engineers to deliver the major capital works programme for Waipa that encompasses the activities of roading, water services and community services.

“It’s great. I love it,” she says. “I’m lucky that I’ve never been pigeonholed, I’ve always moved in different disciplines.”

Back when she was the council’s water services manager, Lorraine joined Water NZ and the water service managers group. She was soon nominated to the group’s committee as chair which she undertook for 4 years and is now also on the association’s board, and has remained as a committee member of the Water Services Managers’ Group.. 

The association’s water services group focuses on the technical area, promoting the interests and needs of three waters with all sectors with Water NZ. It provides advice on new technology and best practice and shares technical knowledge for the advancement of three waters. It undertakes projects in areas of common need and interest which are funded via a project levy paid by councils (the fee is a percentage weighted to reflect the size of the council).

“We try to find projects that are relevant and important to all councils and create really good guidelines and provide technical oversight.

“We have not been reinventing the wheel but defining industry best practice,” she says.

 “A lot of councils are in catch-up mode after years of low-cost/high-risk water management.

“Coming from Ireland and the UK, where we operated under a strict framework, I have found the New Zealand legislation and regulations fragmented and thereby confusing,” she adds.

“As water services managers, we need to step up and provide technical leadership and advice to make clear water policies and regulations.

“The engineers on the ground want to do the right thing – I haven’t met a single water services manager who hasn’t wanted to do the right thing for their community. 

“And, as engineers, we need to show professional leadership: leave the politics to the politicians.”

Although she had no idea what she was getting into when she started her engineering degree, Lorraine reckons it was a happy accident, and the fact she’s not your typical engineer is something that is working in her favour.

“One thing engineers need to do better is communicate – with the public, with the decision makers,” she says. 

“It is important to present a customer-oriented solution, not a complicated technical one, which is often the engineers’ default. 

“We need to make sure that what we’re putting up for consideration is clear, so that decision makers are well informed, and they are making decisions based on facts. And at times that may mean presenting at a layman’s level to ensure the solution is understood.

“This is certainly what I try and do, and maybe I find it easier because I’m an engineer by mistake.” LG

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