Changing paths from Engineering to Engineering Project Management
Engineering Project Managers can specialise in building and developing Project Management teams, managing processes, procedures, risk, cost and schedules for large-scale engineering and construction projects.
Core competencies include a knowledge of engineering and project principles and an Engineering Project Manager will use these skills combined with leadership skills to effectively manage teams in multidisciplinary environments.
Becca Nanopoulou began working as a Mechanical Engineer in 2009. Becca is now the Program Management Officer with Luerssen Australia working on the SEA1180 program to build 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels. She has gained extensive shipbuilding engineering experience over the past 11 years working on submarine and surface ship projects.
Overview of your role
Luerssen Australia has been contracted to build 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Australian Navy under a project named SEA1180. The first two are being built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia and the remaining 10 are going to be built in the Civmec Shipyard in the Maritime precinct Henderson, just south of Perth in Western Australia.
I am the Manager of the Project Management Office for Luerssen Australia. In this role, I am responsible for building and developing the Project Management teams, as well as introducing the processes and procedures that will allow us to maintain control of the performance of the SEA 1180 project. I report to the CEO of Luerssen Australia and am responsible for Planning, Project Controls, Work Preparation and Risk Management sections. In addition, we work very closely with all the disciplines within the company to enable a smooth operation. We collaborate with the parent company in Germany so that all necessary elements are incorporated into our systems so transition of data and systems from Germany to Australia is seamless. We support and guide our partners ASC and Civmec in this project across Australia so that issues and challenges are identified and addressed as soon as possible and disruptions to operations are kept to a minimum.
Where do you work?
I am based in at the Osborne Naval Shipyard and I also work very closely with Civmec at Henderson in WA. Now that travel restrictions have eased, my team and I will spend time travelling between the two states so we can support Civmec in their shipbuilding activities to establish and grow the WA team. The first two vessels are under construction at Osborne, we recently completed Keel Laying of the third vessel in WA and design is in the final stages in Germany.
How did you get to where you are today?
It almost seems as if everything I have done has led me to the Australian Shipbuilding Industry.
Having grown up in Greece in a Maritime environment with a Merchant Navy Captain as a father, I spent time working with him on operational ships. My love for science led me to an Engineering degree and then a job in Esso UK, during the time they were merging with Mobil. Starting my career in such a global, process-controlled organisation, provided a unique grounding and exposure to business practices, and I eventually realised that I wanted to change paths and move into Project Management but with a focus on technical projects. I moved to Australia, went back to University, and studied for my Master of Engineering Project Management. As I felt that I lacked technical background so I took a number of positions that put me on the ground, taking a few steps backwards and sideways in my career to gain further experience. This path led me to BAE Systems as a Project Manager on the Williamstown Shipyard upgrade project. This project involved the development of the shipyard to enable the construction of the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) upper sections and the receipt of the hull from Spain. Ships today are built in blocks (more or less like a lego set) and the blocks are consolidated onto the hull. Construction works on the yard were made more complicated as the yard was already operational and constructing the AWD blocks to be sent to Adelaide where ASC were building those ships. At the conclusion of the construction works, I was appointed Deputy Ship Manager on the first LHD and as part of my development path and expanding my shipbuilding knowledge, I was also a block manager on ship 2. I was then appointed as the Warranty Manager for HMAS Canberra (the first LHD) before moving on to maritime sustainment and support, where I was responsible for the delivery of a large number of engineering change projects and upgrades across a number of different classes. The next challenge came with the Future Submarine Project, and I decided to relocate to Adelaide, as I wanted to stay within shipbuilding. I felt I had just the right skillset to work within the company in order to firstly design and build the submarine shipyard in Adelaide, and then move onto the construction of the submarine project which is known as SEA1000. Although SEA 1000 was a hugely exciting project, I missed building surface ships and being in a shipyard. So, I made the hard decision to leave that project and move to Luerssen Australia who were in the process of building the first of the Offshore Patrol Vessels under SEA 1180. In my first week with the company we achieved the keel laying for ship 1, which is a traditional milestone for a shipbuilder. And it felt like I had finally come home.
What do you love about your job?
The people. Shipbuilders are incredibly passionate and take great pride in their work. Working with Defence provides me with a sense that I am giving back to the Country that took me in and has provided so many opportunities to me. Every day presents a new set of challenges but also opportunities. This project is particularly exciting, as the design is still being finalised while we have 3 ships in different phases of construction so there is an extra intensity to ensure processes are robust and solid to enable this to occur, but at the end of the day, processes will only work if the relationships and partnerships are built and maintained early enough to last a 12 ship programme.
Why did you choose a career this field?
It feels like my background, education and career choices led me to the LHD project, and my time there remains three of the best years of my life. Shipbuilding is a blend of fascinating work, constant challenges and incredible learning opportunities, but the people, who have done and hopefully will again become more of a family than colleagues, is what made me want to stay in this field. This industry combines driving highly technical solutions, complex contractual interactions, creative and alternative troubleshooting but also personal relationships with people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds. For me, it is the perfect mix of process and creativity, with an outcome which instils an un-paralleled sense of pride.
What skills are required in your position?
This is a very people-orientated role. Being able to bring together multiple disciplines to work towards a common goal is a balancing act. In terms of technical skills, I grew up as an engineer in global, multi-cultural companies and have worked in several industries and countries. My background in engineering, construction, oil and gas has given me a solid technical grounding to understand what needs to be done and engage with the people who have the expertise to resolve issues. Working around the world allows me to interact with different cultures and get the most out of a situation. Adaptability and flexibility are also essential, as, as the saying goes, plans are made to be broken. During particular challenges, it is very important to be able to maintain morale and build resilience in the teams and partners, so that we can push through the hard times together. This has been particularly important this year.
Why did you decide to work within the Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise?
As part of the LHD Project I saw the project go from block, to a ship, to systems integration and testing, through sea trials and on to delivery to Ship’s Crew, to sustainment of an operational Royal Australian Navy (RAN) asset. The sense of pride, honour and accomplishment I experienced was transformative and I decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my working life. Seeing the ships that I have helped build in operation, gives me a huge sense of achievement and accomplishment.
If you like being challenged, enjoy unique experiences that will set your career up for great things then you should consider opportunities in the naval shipbuilding industry. Join the national Workforce Register.