Jacinta Kelly


Engineer/Project Manager

Harris Kmon Solutions

Jacinta Kelly is project managing the design and construction of new housing across remote communities in the Northern Territory. With a science degree and a civil engineering degree, Jacinta has achieved her Chartered Status in the areas of structural engineering with Engineers Australia – whilst also acting as an AIPM Chartered Practicing Project Manager on the side. Previously, Jacinta has worked as a structural design engineer, a program manager, and university lecturer, all while living in the Northern Territory.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I have been a member of Engineers Australia for over 10 years.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
By chance, really. My grandfather was a civil engineer and my brother wanted to become an engineer, but I was far more interested in forensic pathology! However, after I started a degree in chemistry and science at university, I began studying mathematics as an elective with all the engineering students. When I realised the concepts those students were studying looked far more interesting than my course, I switched!

I’m now married with four young children and while I was on maternity leave I completed another degree, this time in mechanical engineering as I think it’s important to be versatile and always learning new skills! So many companies and business leaders are adopting more flexible work practices and cultures to allow engineers to enjoy life, have a family, whilst still loving and succeeding in their profession – it’s exciting to see. These flexible workplace cultures have certainly assisted me to continue a fulfilling engineering career while having a young family.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
I just have to think back on all the projects I’ve ever been involved in, and they all benefit the community in some way. There is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the final product being used after a project is complete.

Whether it is the reconstruction of an aerodrome to allow increased access for planes, or handing over new housing to remote communities, I feel immense satisfaction that I have played my part in that, and I feel an immense responsibility throughout the project process to always consider the end users and stakeholders in the back of my mind when I need to make decisions that will affect them – whether they know it or not.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
The most interesting project I’ve ever worked on was managing a multimillion-dollar program of works to upgrade essential remote aerodromes across the Northern Territory. The upgrades included anything from sealing remote gravel runways, extending runways, and constructing new aprons to complete reconstructions.

In order to initiate and run the program successfully, I had to travel across remote communities, run multifaceted risk assessment workshops, present on the projects to Regional Councils and key stakeholder groups, work with project managers to design, procure and construct the upgrades, coordinate funding and reporting of the projects and liaise with the key users of the remote runways such as Careflight and Royal Flying Doctor.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
We don’t market ourselves well at all; Subsequently, not enough people are seeking out engineering careers. I remember reading the jobs guide at high school and seeing the description on engineers and thinking to myself, “well that sounds boring”! Most people don’t know that the day-to-day role of any engineer is to problem-solve and coordinate teams to undertake projects. The best engineers are not those who are maths nerds, they are the ones who can communicate well in both verbal and written forms, bring people and solutions together, and drive the best outcomes for stakeholders.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
Engineers have opportunities everywhere: Infrastructure, politics, business management, risk management, project management – you name it. An engineering degree is just a stepping stone into so many areas where you as an individual can affect real change for the benefit of the community. I’m excited to see the engineering profession raise their general profile in the community, and connect with more young students who do not yet realise what a huge leap into an exciting and versatile career an engineering degree can give them.

And for engineering parents out there: Make sure you buy the Engibear children books – my kids love them, and it’s a way for us to explain to them what we do at work!

Who is your engineering hero?
I don’t have a specific hero; Many people in engineering and leadership roles have inspired me along the way. I observe what they seem to do well and try to learn from them. My motto has always been to “know what you don’t know and know where to find the answer”. I’m not afraid to ask questions, extend myself into different challenging environments, and learn from those around me in order to better myself as a person and as an engineer.

Image: courtesy of Jacinta Kelly