Sage Consulting Solution’s Susan Jaques shares her experiences in the pipeline industry and what it is like to be part of a committee.
Tell us who you are and what you do?
Well, like perhaps many people in the industry, I’d say I’m an accidental pipeline engineer. I didn’t plan to be doing this kind of work, but here I am, and I love it.
I have a civil engineering degree from the University of Alberta (1993) in Canada, where I worked for TransCanada as a pipeline engineer for a few years, and then I moved to Brisbane Australia in 1997 for more pipeline engineering work.
The civil engineering degree kind of betrays my interest in landscapes, structures, soil types, and construction over piping specs and valve design. I really like working on tangible things that you can see, that serve a purpose, like structures. And pipelines are structures, which we sometimes don’t consider. There aren’t that many civil engineers in this industrial petrochemical industry, but we know who we are, and I can tell when I’m talking to a civil engineer. We get the soil types, structural issues, landscapes, and construction side of things.
Being in the pipeline engineering game has provided me with a wide range of exposure to all kinds of engineering. What I’m observing now is engineering is kind of morphing to be less about the discipline that you graduated with, and more about an amazing melding of all of the disciplines. Your ‘degree’ category (civil, mechanical, process) does inform what you might end up doing in your career (civil engineers rarely end up doing electrical work, for example), but engineering is getting more and more diffuse. In the ‘olden days’ (which equates to early in my career), engineers were the ones in the background doing all the calculations and not needing to talk to anyone. It’s completely different now, especially since computers do the calculations for us. Engineers need different skills now.
Engineers, particularly project engineers and non-specialists, and, I’d say, pipeline engineers, need to know a little bit about a lot of things, and then also need to have enough knowledge to take responsibility for a lot of decisions and judgments based on limited information. It can be a tough ask sometimes.
I’m a “company of one” solo consultant in the industry, and I love it. It’s best when I’m working with a variety of clients on AS2885 Safety Management Study workshop facilitation, and I’m training young engineers on what AS2885 is all about. I’m helping engineers see the value in being good engineers through skills and competency development such as communication, ethics and decision-making.
Which committees, are or have, you been a member of?
There are three organisations that I’m on committees with: APGA, Engineers Australia (EA) and Standards Australia.
In thinking about this, I’m on a lot of committees! With EA I work on the CELM Project Excellence committee, which came out of another committee, the EA Project Engineering Working Group. I’m also the manager of EA’s Risk Engineering Body of Knowledge (REBoK) website, which is run by a committee.
With Standards Australia, ME-038 is of course the big one that I’m known for, which oversees the AS2885 suite as well as AS4822 and AS3862. I’m also the facilitator on other committees for Standards Australia, including button batteries, concrete access chambers, and electrical cabling. So that gives me a nice wide variety of technical standards committees. But you want to talk about the APGA committees: I’m on four.
Firstly, and with the longest membership, I’m on the Young Pipeliners Forum (YPF), as a national representative of ‘the past’ I suppose. I was part of the team that created the YPF in 2006. The second one is the Research and Standards Committee (RSC). I’ve been on the RSC since about 2017, and I’m now a newly minted Executive Committee Member of RSC. Thirdly is the Pipeline Engineering Competency System (PECS) committee, keeping the competencies up to date and relevant. Finally, the newest one is the Consultant’s Committee, which only just started up this year.
Why all the involvement in Committee work?
Good question! What interests me about committees is two things, first and foremost is a very basic fear of missing out (FOMO). I just like to know what’s going on, and it’s important to me to give back to the industry that’s been so good to me over the years.
But bigger than FOMO is the other factor in my interest in belonging to committees: being part of the outputs of these committees. Committees are – or should be – problem solvers. So, I get on committees because while I like knowing what’s going on, mostly I like being a problem solver. Most of the committees I participate in are the ones that produce documents.
That’s what I’m really keen on: writing things that are useful to other people. We talk about communication as a key skill for engineers, and why it is so important and why everyone needs to communicate better. One of the essential outputs of all the committees I’m on is the written and published documentation. So, the Standards Committee documents industry requirements in standards. PECS outlines the competency standards for people to get better at their roles. With Engineers Australia, the REBoK is a body of knowledge, and the output is a (fledgling) website that gives access to the body of knowledge. I haven’t even yet mentioned the AS2885.info unofficial committee. Just a group of ex-committee members trying to keep the knowledge transfer happening.
So those are the ones that I like the most, committees that are focused on delivering useful documents.
How have the APGA committees contributed to the industry?
I am so proud to have been involved in YPF all the way along. Former AGPA CEO Cheryl Cartwright was an instigator of that, and the contribution of the YPF to industry has been huge for the last 15 years through networking and learning events. And it just keeps going and it kind of perpetuates itself, I think it’s fantastic. And I hope that continues. So YPF what it has done to the industry is of course, give young people a place to start. And that’s great.
The PECS committee contributed a framework of 240 competencies that a person can look at to see where they fit in the industry and what they might want to learn about. Keeping those updated is an ongoing challenge.
RSC is a home for people who are doing the research around pipelines, and adapting that into the standards that apply to the pipeline industry. It’s been really great to be involved in seeing first-hand the outputs of the research, and working to incorporate that into the standards, or at least to distribute the knowledge efficiently through training (there’s that knowledge transfer again!).
That’s the contributions to the industry from committees: knowledge transfer, awareness and networking. The committees allow people to meet each other, people you might not meet in your working life or through the normal course of business. The committees give you exposure to people with who you might not work with except on the committee.
What has being part of the APGA committees done for your career?
Networking and the opportunity to meet new people is huge, as well as the exchanging of knowledge and learning from others. When you start on a committee as a younger person the exposure to all the knowledge of all the other people is just unparalleled. Again, it’s exposure to people who aren’t in your company, so you see that there are other ways of thinking other than just from within your own organisation.
What would you say to a person considering joining a committee?
Before joining a committee, find out what the purpose of the committee is. Make sure you understand what its purpose is and the principles of it and that you can contribute along those principles. If it’s a committee whose purpose is to write a document, make sure you’re coming to write documents, not just to talk about problems.
It’s not just a line on your resume. If you’re looking to join a committee, you obviously also suffer from FOMO. Use that fear of missing out to become really engaged with the opportunities to be exposed to such impressive people in the industry who are already established.
What is it like being in a committee, or so many committees?
It is like joining a tribe. But it’s a tribe that you don’t get to choose who else is in it. You don’t always have the ability to choose the direction but know that everyone on the committee working towards consensus. Understanding the concept of consensus is not only a key aspect of committee work, but consensus can be an important concept in working life in the engineering game, too.
The best thing though, specifically with the committees I’m on, is that you can become more than colleagues with your committee, you can become really good friends. That’s the thing I guess is that you meet people who have similar interests on committees, or similar work life challenges. So you get to meet birds of a feather.
But it is a commitment, most certainly. It is a commitment that you need to be able to make in terms of time and brain space.
Having been on so many, what makes them work?
The successful ones are two things: they are outputs driven, and they are egalitarian. Outputs are those useful documents I keep mentioning, and egalitarian is that everyone gets a chance to talk and contribute. I’ve noticed the ones that aren’t so successful or enjoyable are the ones where the chair or facilitator does all the talking and just reports back to everyone and says “done, any questions?”. The best committees are the ones where I know something about everyone on the committee, because everyone has talked and shared.
I imagine you’re going to continue to work on the committees?
I imagine you’re right. I sometimes think about dropping out to have more ‘me-time’, but then I know that I’ll just miss them, and I don’t need more me-time. I know I would miss finding out about what’s going on, and what my committee-mates are up to. So yes, of course, I’m going to commit to continuing on, if they’ll have me.