Jillian Kilby

FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER

CEO and Founder

The Infrastructure Collaborative

Jillian Kilby is a Civil Engineer (University of Sydney) with a Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Policy from Stanford University, she believes “that education is given to benefit many to make Australia great” (Sir John Monash). Jillian is currently a non-executive Director of Jobs for NSW, an Industry Advisor for the new engineering degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, an Advisor to the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

Jillian approaches life optimistically with the logical thinking of a civil engineer, the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude of a farmer’s daughter from Coonamble NSW, and an altruistic passion for driving change. Jillian is unique for having her boots-on-the-ground in both regional Australia and the USA and is able to cross-pollinate learnings from her diverse set of international work assignments. Since starting her consulting firm “The Infrastructure Collaborative” ten years ago, she has chosen to serve the infrastructure needs of our regional Local Councils – calling over 70 of them clients, that’s most over the Blue Mountains. In the USA, Jillian has worked on a number of projects including the California High Speed Rail, the LA Metro and on the incoming Governors Transportation Policy Advisory Team. The Infrastructure Collaborative is focused on shifting infrastructure projects from planning shelves to be shovel ready.

Jillian was the 2010 Young Professional Engineer of the Year, the 2018 NSW/ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award winner, has served as a Director of the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation and as Chairman of the Civil and Structural Panel of Engineers Australia.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I first joined Engineers Australia as a student, and just before graduation I met the members of the Sydney Division Civil and Structural Panel when I was awarded the Rod McGee Medal. The Panel invited me to join, and with their mentoring and encouragement, I served for eight years and was elected as the Secretary and Chairman of the panel.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
When I was 17 I read the entire University Admission Guide, cover to cover, and I crossed out everything I did not want to do. Only two degrees were left for the practical solutions they provided: architecture and engineering. Growing up on a farm in regional Australia, I thought engineering would allow me to one-day return to the country. Little did I know as a young woman that within a decade I would be living, studying, attending conferences, and working internationally. A career in engineering really does speak every language and has no geographical barriers as a foundational education.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
I am unique for having studied at the intersection of engineering, public policy and business, and for having my boots on the ground in regional Australia while also serving clients in the United States. I am able to cross-pollinate learnings from a diverse set of work assignments and experiences. I add value by bringing multiple stakeholders together to collaborate. In 2013 I was able to bring 54 Local Government Organisations together to create a $3 billion regional road plan. By collating and prioritising the most important road projects, we are able to allocate funding more efficiently and strategically, regions will drop boundaries that have previously slowed infrastructure being shovel ready, and planning happens at a regional level, not a local level.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on to date?
In 2009 I moved to a farm in north-west NSW. Without job opportunities, I started my own engineering firm at 25 years of age and grew the business to serve over 50 clients west of the Blue Mountains. Starting a company and serving clients was both interesting, and challenging. At 29, I was questioning how to scale the business when the Australian Sir John Monash Foundation changed my trajectory forever, granting me the BHP Scholarship to study an MBA and MPP at Stanford University in California.

The second challenge was to launch my infrastructure advisory business in the United States after graduation, entering a new market all together. I have now been working in both Australia and the US since 2016. I am constantly challenged and sharing learnings from diverse project work, including time spent working on the California High Speed Rail, the LA Metro, and for a large Technology Firm that wishes to invest in public transportation infrastructure.

It’s the moments that have challenged me that have been the most memorable, and also made me the most grateful for my network of fellow engineers, my wonderful education, and my willingness to say ‘YES’ and hang on for the ride.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Right now, one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession is the number of engineers available to work on an unprecedented pipeline of infrastructure projects in NSW. We have a lack of capacity to deliver due to a lack of capable engineers. The risk is that there are mistakes in design and construction that impact people’s lives, the cost of the project, and our reputation as a profession. The role of Engineers Australia as a gate keeper for the professional registration and professional development of engineers has never been so important.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
I am excited about the emergence of technology and the application it has in design, construction and project management. Even in my own consulting work, technology is a major change agent for the way we will work in 2019.

After the labour-intensive work of compiling a 300-page report that was mail merged from an excel data base of over 100 prioritised road and bridge projects for 11 Local Government Areas, we developed a software platform to do instant, real-time report preparation, project prioritisation and filtering by project shovel-readiness. Visually, the entire report can be read and understood in one-page due to our infographics that we have produced to convey complex engineering data in a single glance. The project came about because we were responding to a pain point for ourselves as consultants and for our clients who were cost sensitive.

We learned to do this reporting when our US client told us our 25-page reports had to be boiled down to just one-page if we wanted them to go to the board for consideration. We did it. And the rest is history.

Who is your engineering hero?
My engineering heroes are the men and women who have made time to mentor me throughout my career.

The 16 members of the Civil and Structure Panel who elected me onto the all-male panel and then encourage and coached me to become the Chairman.
Former Australian Army Chief Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie who sat me down and asked, “what do you want for your career and here is how I can help”.
Emeritus Professor Mark Wainwright AM, who is a champion for young people into new roles.
Peter Darvall AO FTSE who sat at opposite me in the interview for the Australian Sir John Monash Foundation Scholarship and made me feel calm. He was after all, a Civil Engineer himself, just like John Monash.

I will always endeavour to do the same for the engineers who cross my path in the future. After all, “education is given to one to benefit many to make Australia great.” Sir John Monash.

Image credit: Clancy Job

Jillian Kilby will be part of a panel discussion on how to link Australian cities with regional centres at the upcoming Transport Australia 2019 Conference. To learn more and to register, click here.