Taking on a new role can be a steep learning curve at the best of times, but getting to know your team in the time of social distancing is another challenge altogether.
Metro Trains Melbourne engineering manager Amy Lezala is three weeks into her new role overseeing the level crossing review group and has spent the day in back-to-back video conference meetings and phone calls.
She says checking in regularly with the team she is only just getting to know has been crucial as everyone adapts to new styles of working.
“It’s just making sure you’re having daily chats with the team on pieces of work that are really critical so that you don’t miss the things that you’d usually chat about in the corridor,” she says.
“You’ve got to really reach out and make sure you’re getting that contact with them.” Ms Lezala has been with Metro Trains Melbourne for more than two years, initially as the Head of Engineering Rolling Stock providing engineering assurance to the rolling stock division.
She’s now overseeing engineering assurance for level crossing works taking place across the network and says part of the appeal of making the move was being part of a project that is achieving better safety outcomes for the community.
Removal of the level crossings will reduce “interaction between trains and cars where there shouldn’t be any”, with Ms Lezala now focused on making sure the team can maintain the project’s tight schedule in the time of COVID-19.
“Generally it’s a busy and fascinating environment anyway, but when you add that we now have additional constraints on how many people can be in one place at one time, there are all types of knock on effects,” she says.
“There are a lot of projects happening right now across the country, so there’s no space for inefficiency in delivery and there’s no space for cost blowouts.
“We need to do business better to hit our deliverables in the time of COVID-19 and it means we’ve got to work a lot smarter in order to hit our targets.”
The complexity of major rail projects is something Ms Lezala is pretty familiar with.
Despite coming from a ‘rail family’ she says she “didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be in rail, I grew up knowing I wanted to be an engineer”.
But a graduate role with Bombardier Transportation after concluding her studies in the UK set her on the path for a career in rail.
“I spent eight and a half years working around the world on some great projects and I had some great leaders in my time there,” she says.
“I saw the opportunity to do lots of very different things within rail, so then it was a no brainer.”
It was a later period in France studying Sustainable and Cross Cultural Business Management that really cemented her direction in rail.
She was studying just down the road from where the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were being developed and was inspired to look for an industry that would allow her to build a purpose-driven, sustainably focused long term career.
“That was the time it hit me that rail answers all these questions,” she says.
“I decided to stay in rail and make an impact within the industry that had served me well for so long.
“The long term career vision is definitely to link engineering and sustainability together.
“I’m very much into my sustainable business and sustainable futures. I am a big campaigner for the sustainable development goals and bringing them into the rail sector.
“When you look at sustainable development, a large part is about decent work, innovation, infrastructure and sustainable cities. Rail ticks all of those boxes.”
Amy (far left) attending a Y-LAB meeting in 2019 Her vision has already translated to action, with Ms Lezala joining the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) inaugural Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB) in 2019, where she initiated a project to align the industry’s work to the SDGs.
Stepping down from Y-LAB at the end of 2019, she says the experience was a transformative one and she is excited about the work ahead for the industry.
“I was really pleased and impressed about how much the Board was listening to us,” she says.
“There was a lot of interest in our thoughts and our opinions were taken very seriously. It made us feel that we were making a difference and really doing something.
“My peers on Y-LAB are some extremely impressive people that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.”
She says the project to align the work of the rail sector with the SDGs was something she looked forward to watching Y-LAB continue to pursue.
“All we need to do is get that branding piece out there to say rail is sustainable, rail is an ethical choice,” she says.
“That’s important with so many people looking for careers with purpose.”
For the moment, Ms Lezala says the focus is on “understanding the nuances of infrastructure” as she beds down her new role.
And as she adapts to a new work from home environment, she says she hopes there are opportunities to challenge traditional thinking in the wake of COVID-19.
“I’m hopeful this is the catalyst for a thinking change on how our systems work and to bring to the forefront that engineering has a lot of the solutions,” she says.
“There’s so much more we could be doing to link rail solutions to the sustainability challenges we have.
“You need start with good design right at the outset.
It’s much better to do human centred design, lifecycle design and design for maintenance up front.
“That is how costly changes can be prevented from the start and asset lifecycle costs can be reduced from day one.”