Despite what they teach in schools, career paths are rarely a straight journey. They have twists and turns. Just ask Carly. Carly joined RAN as an undergraduate Marine Engineering Officer, gained her engineering degree, transitioned out to pursue her passion in the health and fitness industry, joined the Defence Industry as a contractor and now calls ASC home. She is a shining example of how one can combine the intellectual challenges of a technical role with the demands of a 20+ hour a week passion.
Tell us a bit about what you are responsible for in your current role at ASC.
ASC-West is primarily a maintenance facility for the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarines. As part of the engineering team, I provide mechanical engineering support to the personnel involved in the maintenance of operational and docked submarines. On a day-to-day basis that involves performing technical investigations, conducting risk assessments, reviewing maintenance procedures and responding to defects in the mechanical systems for which I am the local point-of-contact.
What was your first ever job?
After high school and during my first year at uni I worked for a temp agency in various basic hospitality roles, such as serving chips at the footy, cleaning toilets in aged care homes and catering weddings.
Tell us about how you got to where you are now. What is your background?
I joined the RAN in 2007 as an undergraduate Marine Engineering Officer while studying Mechanical Engineering at Curtin University in Perth. On graduating I spent a year on the east-coast for basic training before being posted back to WA. After a sea posting to HMAS Sirius and a shore posting as her maintenance manager, I transitioned out of the RAN to pursue a career in the health and fitness industry. I worked as a CrossFit trainer for three years before registering my details with Kinexus. Within two weeks I was contracted to ASC as a mechanical engineer, and at the end of my three-month contract, I was offered a permanent position in the company.
Can you tell us a bit about your transitioning out of the forces?
The decision to transition out of the RAN was a little daunting at first. I had structure, tangible career pathways and financial security in the forces. However, the actual transition process was quite smooth. I think it helped that my supervisor at the time was very supportive of my decision. My return-of-service obligation to the Commonwealth was coming to an end and my interest in health and fitness was taking me in a different direction to the Engineering Officer training continuum, so I decided to take the plunge and pursue that passion.
What attracted you to contracting work?
Returning to work in the engineering sector was financially and intellectually attractive to me. I was nervous about re-entry after working in a completely different field for several years. I felt a short-term contract would be a good starting point to see if the change would suit my lifestyle.
What’s the hardest thing for you about being a woman in a male dominated industry? How do you address that?
My experience as a woman in engineering, particularly at ASC, has been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t feel as though I’m treated differently to my male colleagues (although perhaps more courteously, at times). I’ve been fortunate to have strong female role models, supportive supervisors and a diverse network of peers throughout my career. In my experience, people in this industry respect attitude, work ethic and competence – irrespective of gender.
How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
The gym is my second home. I compete nationally and internationally in CrossFit and other strength sports, which means dedicating 20+ hours a week to training. Luckily, ASC has been very accommodating of these commitments. I work under a Flexible Work Arrangement which has allowed me to find a great balance between the intellectual challenges of a technical job and the physical demands of training. Importantly the FWA also allows me more time at home with my partner and beloved fur-babies.
What advice would you give to someone looking to forge a career in the Defence industry?
Go for it! The opportunities are extremely diverse, and the work is challenging and very rewarding. In my experience, Defence Industry really values both teamwork and the contribution of the individual. Be prepared for frequent change, don’t take yourself too seriously, and maintain a sense of humour.
By Carly Menzies