News from Tasmania, Hunter Valley and Sunshine Coast
We welcome three new engineers, principal and senior, to our regional offices and discuss their plans to lead new initiatives for clients and attract the best recent graduates to their respective areas.
Mark Passier – Principal Engineer, Hobart Office
The Hobart office welcomed Mark in February and values his nearly twenty years of experience in civil and environmental engineering. Since arriving in 2018, Mark has been captivated by Tasmania’s natural environment, people, culture, and even the climate! He brings a passion for tackling complex projects that demand innovation, critical thinking and collaboration across organisations.
Dr Glen Burton – Senior Associate Engineer, Singleton Office
Glen brings extensive experience in geotechnical engineering and tailings design to the Singleton office. He has received the International Association for Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics (IACMAG) John Carter Award (2017) and D. H. Trollope Medal, Australian Geomechanics Society (2016). In 2013, he received the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award and completed study at the Nagoya Institute of Technology (Japan). Glen holds a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering and joined us in July.
Mark Hawkins – Principal Engineer, Maroochydore Office
Mark joined our Maroochydore office in April with 25 years of geotechnical and civil engineering experience in the UK, Australia and the Middle East across road, rail, marine and aviation infrastructure projects. Mark has worked on water projects, mining schemes, deep basements for large buildings, and energy, resource and environmental projects. He is a Chartered Professional Engineer, Chartered Scientist and Chartered Geologist.
As experts in your fields, what leadership are you bringing to your regional clients?
Mark Passier – Hobart Office, Tasmania
ATC Williams is at the leading edge of the industry, and our ‘One ATC Williams’ approach means we bring national experience to our clients here in Tasmania. We are already doing that well with projects in the waste management sector supported by our people in Brisbane. Then with our tailings work, we are linked to our people in Melbourne. And it goes both ways, I’m involved in projects on the mainland too, so it works well.
Glen Burton – Hunter Valley Office, New South Wales
In the Hunter Valley, we’re seeing many mines moving towards closure, or at least putting closure plans in place. One aspect of this is the closure of tailings storage facilities (TSFs). Coal tailings can be quite high in clay content which limits their ability to dewater or consolidate, resulting in very low undrained shear strengths with high compressibility. In Geotechnical engineering, a lot of work is done on “soft ground” with associated issues. But, to me, tailings are the real soft ground – we’re often dealing with undrained shear strengths less than 12kPa and deposits that can be 10s of meters thick. This requires an understanding of fundamental soil mechanics principles to solve the challenges with both strength (e.g., for short and long-term stable final landforms) and settlement (e.g., free draining final landforms). I’m starting to get more involved with some of these projects and hope we can solve some challenging issues for our clients.
Mark Hawkins – Sunshine Coast Office, Queensland
Before joining ATC Williams, I didn’t have extensive exposure to waste or water or tailings dams engineering, so I’ve welcomed the opportunity to learn new skills and use my previous experience on projects that I haven’t typically been exposed to before. I’m currently undertaking specialist foundation and ground improvement design along with select geotechnical temporary works, broadening the key services ATC Williams can offer.
What is the best part of working in a regional office?
We get to know our clients really well, and I think there’s a tighter professional network where everyone knows everyone. We focus on what we want to do well, and it’s great to be able to bring those skills to our local clients.
Beyond the technical work, I agree we have good client relationships and one-on-one communications that result in continuing work. From the Sunshine Coast office, if there’s an issue on a job, we go directly to our technical specialists across other offices, knowing that they can solve it quickly and without having to go through the procedures that larger companies have to go through. Solving our client’s problems in a timely manner means that they will continuously come directly to us.
Our clients live and work regionally, and it’s logical for us to do the same. From our Singleton office, we’re strategically located and can be onsite to support many of our clients with only a short 30min to one-hour drive. We’re happy to have that level of involvement, and it is often a great way for us to get to know our clients on a professional and personal basis and understand what the key drivers are for their projects. I can still do the same technically challenging work but without all the stresses of city life.
Why do you think undergrads and grads should consider regional offices early in their careers?
Even if you’re joining ATC Williams in Hobart, you work with the best in the industry because that’s how we structure our business. We have a local presence and diverse people and projects in Australia and internationally. Working in one of ATC Williams’ regional offices makes sense for early-career people wanting exposure to a broader professional experience. We provide an environment for our staff to learn and grow.
When I worked for large multinational companies, I felt like a tiny washer in a huge engine. I was basically on a production line doing a set task, and then the risk is you wear that hat until you leave. In comparison, ATC Williams is open and flexible. There are opportunities to buy shares and have twenty weeks of parental leave. If someone comes in at 21, by the time they are 31, they have the potential to buy into the future of the company significantly.
Working in a regional office provides excellent exposure to exciting projects, from concept design through to construction support and operations. As a geotechnical engineer, I always felt at odds working in a clean, shiny city office. One of the best ways we learn is by getting our hands dirty, and I like that ATC Williams has a strong geotechnical background. With the way technology is these days, if working regionally is what you want to do, I don’t see any hindrance to technical career development. Being involved with fieldwork, laboratory testing, design/analysis, reporting, construction supervision, and instrumentation at one company is a distinct advantage for a young engineer.
How does a regional lifestyle offset the pressure to deliver on time and within budget?
I think my workload has just the same pressures as my colleagues in major cities. So, I suppose the difference for me is I leave the office, and in a few hundred metres, I’m on the Alexandra Headland taking in the Pacific Ocean. It’s tranquil and calming after a heavy day. When I used to work in the centre of Melbourne or Sydney or London, I’d head out of the door at 5:00 pm, and everything would be rushing by, and I’d feel that stress.
That’s why my partner and I decided we wanted to stay here in Hobart. It’s just a really great place to be. We love Tassie and the natural surroundings. For instance, there’s Kunanyi/Mt Wellington, just ten minutes from the city – it’s like our backyard.
There’s a lot of work in the Hunter Valley, and sometimes, I don’t think we get to relax that much! My partner and I have two young boys, and after the morning chaos, I quite like the drive up the Hunter Valley. It’s only about an hour’s commute to the office, and I’ll listen to something to chill out and enjoy the view. We like to get out and about on the weekends with lots of sports and outdoor activities. Located so close and convenient to Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens are a big drawcard for me, and I hope we have a dry summer so we can get out and do some more camping.
Why have you joined ATC Williams at this stage in your career?
I’ve always lived in the Hunter Valley and grew up in a small town near Maitland. I completed university and my PhD in Newcastle and was fortunate enough to spend time at leading geotechnical laboratories in Spain and Japan. I’ve worked across many projects in the Hunter Valley over my career, and in the last two years or so, I decided to focus more on mining-related work. Being a relatively small industry, I’d come across plenty of ATC Williams projects, so I knew the name. Working previously with a multinational company, you can feel as though you have become a number or just another cog in the wheel. At ATC Williams, even after my short time here, I genuinely believe that the culture is good and that the future looks even better.
ATC Williams came with strong endorsement, and I have found many familiar faces there from earlier in my career. It’s common to hear that the people are the best thing about a business when someone is going out the door. I reckon that’s true, and for me, the situation was the reverse – the people are a big part of why I joined! It’s great to be working again with Rowan Cossins, Scott McDonald, Joe McLeod, Mal Jones, and of course, a bunch of new faces.
I moved to Melbourne in the mid-90s and then to the Sunny Coast in 2006. I am originally from Oxfordshire in the UK, so I enjoy the pace of regional life. I like that I can get involved hands-on in local opportunities or work on any project in any part of the world. I first came across ATC Williams in 1998 when I worked on a water reservoir project with them in Geelong. I could see the company had grown substantially since then and attracted great people and projects. Since starting in April, what stands out about ATC Williams is the culture is far above any other consultancy I’ve worked for in the past. They are a progressive company with good leadership, and I’m happy I joined. I feel that this place has got something unique about it.