Tim Dunlop is a civil engineer with a regional purpose.
In the face of global markets and a growing skills gap between Australia’s cities and regions, capturing regional expertise has never been more important. So how can regional communities work together to keep their skills at home?
For Tim Dunlop, a La Trobe engineering alumnus and 2015’s Victorian and Australian Young Engineer of the Year, it starts with employing local people. Tim leads RMG, an ambitious Bendigo-based company providing project management, civil and structural engineering expertise to help realise regional projects.
In the wake of winning the 2018 Bendigo Business Excellence Awards’ Excellence as an Emerging Business category, Tim spoke with us about his impressive engineering career and why he values the outstanding capabilities of regional communities.
I grew up in regional Victoria and always had an interest in how things were built. My father managed a quarry, which meant I was exposed to lots of the materials associated with road and bridge construction. This exposure, combined with a strong interest in mathematics and science at high school, led me to complete a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) at La Trobe University in 2004. As the closest regional university, La Trobe allowed me to live at home while studying, which took some of the financial pressure off.
Technical skills are very important in engineering, but the real advantage is in ‘soft skills’, because engineers work in teams. Being at La Trobe gave me the opportunity to work in teams on projects and, while challenging, it really developed my workforce skills. There’s a perception that civil engineers just design things, but we are far more than that. We realise projects by influencing stakeholders, developing business cases, managing teams, and bringing multidisciplinary experts together.
Engineers are really good at bringing people together to work. They’re really good at analysing, understanding problems and looking for solutions – and people are another example of that. So, as you grow as an engineer you learn how to manage teams and that’s when you go to that next level and see complex projects realised.
I didn’t recognise the importance of my university networks at the time, but it’s been a big insight as my career has developed. At university, you’re more focused on studying and socialising and you may not recognise the benefits. But when you’re out and working in the engineering space, you find out how small it is. I often come across La Trobe graduates working in high level managerial positions, including people I went to university with. Friendships I established back then, I’ve re-established later on. We’re always bumping into each other on projects – it’s a pretty small world.
My passion for regional business developed alongside my career – though it definitely wasn’t a planned path. After graduating, I worked for a number of companies, from the public sector to small businesses and multinationals. I got exposure to a lot of different ways of operating and to various types of projects – from small ones that directly affect the community, to some at an international scale. But I always had that connection with regional communities. And I saw times when our expertise was being delivered overseas, when we weren’t valuing the skills we have here, in our backyard.
Eight out of ten engineers at RMG are La Trobe graduates. We find that they’re work-ready and pragmatic, and we provide them with exposure to world-class engineering projects based in Bendigo. Strategically, we need access to good graduates to enable us to grow. Having La Trobe in Bendigo is a significant reason we’re located here and we value that connection.
We developed RMG to develop the prosperity and capability of regional communities. We deliver economic benefit directly here in Bendigo, but we see ourselves growing to other parts of regional Australia as well. The partners we work with, and the people we employ, have a strong understanding of regional Australia. We love that connection to community – it gives us and our staff purpose, fulfilment and great satisfaction to see the work we’re doing having real-world benefits.
Our partners get to see our community values in action time and time again. When RMG was first established, in line with our purpose, we partnered with the City of Greater Bendigo for the Bendigo Airport Water Cycle Management Project. The project was the first of its kind and changed water management in the region. Of current projects, we’ve partnered with Catherine McAuley College to develop their 20 year masterplan, which aligns building and infrastructure with their new pedagogy. And we’ve partnered with VicRoads for the Safe System Road Infrastructure Project, to prevent fatalities on high-risk rural roads. Being a partner in realising these projects is very rewarding.
What advice would I give to engineering graduates? Always be open to learning. It’s a lifelong journey and you can learn a lot from listening to peers and those senior to you. Never be afraid to ask questions, and to question the advice you’re receiving. Mistakes are made on the journey, the important thing is to realise the mistake, take ownership of it, fix it and learn from it. It’s less about failure and more about continuous improvement. And finally – always challenge yourself. It’s when you’re uncomfortable that you get the best out of yourself and learn the most.
Last updated: 7th May 2019