Tammy Chu

FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER APEC Engineer IntPE(Aus)

Managing Director

Entura

Tammy is the Managing Director of Entura, one of the world’s most experienced specialist power and water consulting firms, part of the Hydro Tasmania group. Tammy was the first female president of the Tasmanian Division of Engineers Australia, and now is a Board member of Engineers Australia Civil College. Tammy holds a Master of Business and Administration from Chifley Business School, is a Fellow of Engineers Australia, Fellow of the International Hydropower Association, and a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I’ve been a member since 1998.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
At secondary school, I started to consider studying engineering because I was good at maths and science. I also had a strong interest in creating and building things and finding solutions to challenging problems. I enjoyed the certainty, and the ability to apply a range of scientific disciplines in a practical way. I felt that engineering had a strong future and would allow me to contribute to long-term positive impacts on communities. This is what engineers do: we make lives better, and improve quality of life in so many ways throughout the world. Through my university degree in civil engineering, I was able to develop the professional knowledge and skills essential for an engineer, and I then achieved a graduate placement at Hydro Tasmania as a civil engineer.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
My strongest interest and greatest satisfaction in my career has come from providing sustainable engineering solutions to build a better future. As an engineer, you can leave a lasting legacy. Improving power and water infrastructure makes a real difference to communities, helping to create better quality of life and supporting economic development. Also, renewable energy infrastructure has an enormous role to play as we transition away from emissions-intensive power to more clean energy as part of the fight against climate change. I’ve always wanted to be part of that, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. It’s exciting to play a role in such a major transformation in the way we live.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
Like many engineers, I’ve worked on a huge variety of tasks and projects in many different environments around the world. They’re all interesting, and they all have value in creating the safe, lasting infrastructure that strengthen communities. I’m doing what I love. I always wanted to solve problems, be creative and contribute to society. Being able to design a bridge or hydropower plant or to increase the safety of dams are very tangible ways to make a difference.

Now I’m leading 200 engineers and scientists and we are working across Australia and the Pacific, and in India, Nepal, PNG, Bhutan and Malaysia – changing lives with clean, renewable energy. This work has brought me huge opportunities to travel and to meet and work with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds – and now to take leadership roles in renewable energy advocacy and planning around the world.

A particularly exciting opportunity right now is contributing to a massive new opportunity in my home state of Tasmania through the ‘Battery of the Nation’ initiative. This is a transformative development that is designed to support rapid changes in the Australian electricity sector, enabling progress towards a much cleaner and more sustainable energy future as we transition away from coal.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
There are many challenges facing the profession – which is natural, given that as engineers we are always needing to respond to change (and to be pioneers of change). Digital disruption, innovation and advances in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, digital twins and virtual reality are going to increase in speed and complexity, so we need to stay abreast of such rapid-paced developments in the era of ‘big data’. One of the challenges in this area will be finding the best application of the new technologies to reach our goals. In other words, not just being wowed by the new and shiny, but using the right technologies to get the job done in the most efficient, accurate, creative and cost-effective way so that we deliver what our clients need from us.

Another major challenge facing the engineering sector is workforce planning, development and retention. The profession as a whole needs to increase its ability to attract and retain engineers. This is an area the industry is struggling with. The current level of need to upgrade infrastructure is keeping engineers in extremely high demand across the globe. That means there are a lot of opportunities for graduates. We need more engineers coming through the education system to fill this demand, so it’s important that we encourage school students interested in STEM subjects to consider a rewarding career in engineering. Certainly, reaching out to encourage women to opt for engineering will help to grow the workforce – it’s a simple reality that if half the population aren’t seeing engineering as a viable or interesting career option for them, the pool of talent and human capital is massively restricted. That’s a waste we simply can’t afford.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
I’d like to see us increase our focus on diversity and inclusion. Over coming decades the industry will need many skilled people, and so we need to reach out broadly. All workplaces are enriched, strengthened and better balanced through greater diversity of thought and backgrounds.

For engineering, a significant challenge in the area of diversity and inclusion is how to improve the industry’s gender balance. We want to encourage women to be a part of this profession — they can bring different ways of thinking, creativity, and different approaches to tasks in engineering, and they can really make a difference in projects that are going to decarbonise energy generation in Australia, and the world.

To address this issue, we need organisational and industry-level commitments, such as ensuring that female sponsors and male champions encourage women and address barriers. We need organisational inclusion and diversity programs, flexible working arrangements, and active encouragement and support from employers through all career stages. Seeing more female role models in senior positions will also help to encourage young female engineers to put themselves forward.

Another exciting direction for engineering is the global trend towards the transformation of energy through increased renewables. Already we’ve seen rapid global expansion of wind and solar, and the next big growth area is energy storage to make those renewables ‘dispatchable’. Decarbonising energy generation in Australia and the world will be a huge contribution towards slowing the progression of anthropogenic climate change and towards building a more sustainable future.

Who is your engineering hero?
Emily Roebling. During the construction of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge in the 1870s, Roebling’s husband, who was ‘chief engineer’, became bedridden. For a decade, Emily Roebling took over many of her husband’s duties on the project and relayed information about progress on the bridge, learning engineering ‘on the job’. Roebling essentially became the ‘first female field engineer’, yet never held a formal degree in engineering or an official title. She went on to study law and always remained an advocate for women’s rights and against discrimination.

Image: provided by Tammy Chu