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Louise Hitchcock is fascinated with technology and how it can benefit society and make businesses more efficient and sustainable.

As a descendent of the Umai clan of Saibai Island in the northern Torres Straits with Papuan heritage from the gulf province, Louise Hitchcock is one of few Indigenous female engineers in Australia.

Unfazed by being in a minority, the 26-year-old brings huge energy, a passion for technology and a pioneering spirit to her work with the CIMIC Group, first as a Mechatronic Innovations Engineer with EIC Activities and now as Technology Development Engineer with Sedgman in Brisbane Queensland.

Louise (centre) and the Methods and Lean team consulting with UGL’s Renewables business on process improvement using Lean and robotic solutions.

Cultivating change

Louise specialises in developing, assessing, commissioning and deploying technologies to reduce costs, de-risk processes and improve safety, sustainably and efficiently. Some of her recent projects with EIC Activities explored the use of robotics within renewable energy and the construction industry. Now at Sedgman, Louise is coordinating the development and installation of a new IoT (Internet of Things) system for monitoring and predicting behaviour of mineral processing plants. 

“I usually get involved if it’s a new idea or technology. That could be implementing an existing technology or, if we need a new solution, going through all the steps from developing to implementing it.”

Simply finding the right technology to overcome a problem is only part of her job. Managing change internally is one of the most challenging aspects of Louise’s role as it involves working with layers of people throughout the organisation, from the executives to the project managers.

I’m supported by a lot of senior people who see the benefit of new technologies and are positive about implementing an automated solution or trying to develop one. We work together to understand the risk and opportunities, so we can take that hard first step and bring everyone along. That is very important when you are doing something that has never been done before and the project is live and on a deadline.

Louise HitchcockSedgman Technology Development Engineer

Another challenge is experiencing bias as a young female engineer.

“I’ve been in meetings where some vendors have come in to present technology solutions and they won’t acknowledge I’m in the room.”

“As soon as I start getting into the nitty gritty details of how their system works and certain specifications that I’m looking for, I’ve seen big changes. Then they look at me and speak to me for the rest of the meeting.”

Louise finds the challenges are balanced by the huge satisfaction she derives from seeing people benefit from the implementation of new technologies. 

One of her biggest achievements with EIC Activities was  managing the development and trial of new technology, making mobile elevating work platforms (scissor lifts) safer for operators to use.

Due to the lack of an off the shelf option, CIMIC Group companies designed and tested a new type of safety device, in partnership with a technology company. The project involved using light detection sensors that detect and prevent the machine from impacting obstacles or entrapping the operator, improving overall safety.

Louise tells that after 10 prototypes and a year’s worth of testing, she and the project team concluded trials and presented findings and recommendations both internally and to relevant industry bodies.

“I worked on the project for three years. It was a highlight to see it come to a good conclusion and that it can be applied to other pieces of equipment and uplifted to the industry as a whole.”

Influences and interests

Louise grew up in southern Sydney near Sutherland in a large, artistic family of six children.  All the children learnt the piano from an early age and Louise went on to learn, then teach classical guitar.

She credits her mother as one of the biggest influences on her life. Despite not having educational opportunities herself, her mother fostered Louise’s interest in mathematics and supported her quest to become the first person in the family to pursue a career in STEM.

“I am very fortunate I have a mother who believes all her children are capable of anything. My family has everything from dancers in Bangarra to artists in Short Black Opera, teachers in remote communities and interior designers.”

As a child, Louise was fascinated with how technology could be used to create useful objects for people. 

When I was younger, I liked to pull apart old electronic equipment and look at all the parts inside. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I was captivated by the mystery of all the tiny components and wanted to understand what they did so that one day I could make things myself.

Louise HitchcockSedgman Technology Development Engineer

Louise presenting at CareerTrackers’ Annual Gala Dinner in March 2019.

Louise’s interest in technology led her to a degree in Mechatronics which appealed because it combines electrical, computer, mechanical and electronic engineering. When she started her degree at Sydney University in 2011, she was one of two young women in a year level of around 40 students.

Her transition into the workforce was helped by CareerTrackers - a non-profit organisation that provides young Indigenous adults with support and pathways to achieve good academic results, acquire industry experience and pursue professional careers. 

Through CareerTrackers, Louise participated in internships with Worley Parsons and EIC Activities. These experiences provided valuable industry exposure, helped her build a professional network and lead to her joining the CIMIC Group graduate program in 2016 and becoming the first Mechatronics Engineer employed by EIC Activities.

CIMIC companies have been developing CareerTrackers interns since the Group’s construction company, CPB Contractors, signed CareerTrackers’ first 10-year corporate partnership in 2010.

“Before CareerTrackers, I’d only had part-time jobs as a music teacher, at a newsagency and as a private tutor. Working as an intern exposed me to what to expect in a corporate workplace and helped me get used to interfacing with people of different ages and experience. That was a huge skill I had to pick up.”

Now alumnus, Louise remains in the CareerTrackers community as a mentor to the next generation of Indigenous professionals. Louise was the keynote speaker at the 2019 CareerTrackers Annual Gala Dinner, where 2,500 attendees from employment partners, universities and participants joined to celebrate the achievements of the program.

Future plans

Louise is looking to harness the skills, support and resources of the wider CIMIC Group to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“A personal goal is to identify how I can contribute, leveraging the support of my company and its focus on increasing Indigenous employment and the use of Indigenous suppliers.”

Ideas which Louise is currently exploring include looking at ways to repurpose old technology, such as computers, for use in schools in remote communities and creating STEM workshops for Indigenous school students.

Louise also wants to become a chartered engineer, live overseas and follow the desire she’s had since childhood to learn more about the practical aspects of technology.

One of my goals is to enhance my skill set in robotics and AI to see how we can use it in a more beneficial way for society. I want to understand it to its limits so I can be relevant in my field and have my voice heard.

Louise HitchcockSedgman Technology Development Engineer

Top tips:

  • Embrace change because it will happen anyway
  • Don’t let anyone else’s opinion define who you are, only you can define who you are
  • Be brave and bold in what you choose to do.

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