The ARA launched an industry-wide Rail e-Mentoring Program in early 2020 after the response to COVID-19 saw many people unexpectedly working from home.
The program aimed to connect rail professionals from across the industry to facilitate networking, share insights and provide practical career advice and professional development as the pandemic unfolded.
Stephen Litterick joined the program as a mentor, while Brodie Akacich signed up as a mentee. They share their stories about the program.
Stephen Litterick FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER APEC Engineer IntPE(Aus) GAICD
Alliance General Manager, Southern Program Alliance
Stephen is a civil engineer with 28 years’ experience in the construction industry and has spent 20 years in business and project management roles.
He’s worked on road, rail, airport and other works in locations including the UK, Hong Kong, China and New Zealand, before moving to Australia in 2007.
Stephen’s helping lead the alliance removing 14 level crossings on the Frankston rail line in Melbourne with a work value in excess of $2 billion.
Stephen has mentored several people over the years, and admits he got a lot out of it and likes to think that those whom he has mentored have benefited too. He is a second time mentor with the ARA after being part of the pilot ARA Women in Rail mentoring program in 2019.
“With a couple of decades of experience behind me I tend to think of mentoring as a way I can give back to our industry,” he says.
“The ARA makes mentoring really easy, their mentoring programs are really well run and come with a wealth of guidance notes and tools to use.”
Stephen says it’s been important to adapt to changing circumstances this year more than ever before and e-mentoring has been a great way to keep interacting.
“I think the program is important because it connects people at all levels and on all sides across our industry at a time when we all need to support each other to get through the challenges we face both personally and at work,” he says.
“I manage a lot of people and my conversations with them usually have a manager’s expectation that the person will perform tasks to serve the workplace.
“Mentoring is very different because my hope is to see personal and professional growth in a mentee and for them to be satisfied that they got there themselves with my guidance when needed.
“I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a mentee grow and achieve success because of encouragement I’ve been able to give.”
Stephen says empathy was an important tool to draw on to achieve a successful mentoring relationship.
“As logical people in an engineering-based industry, we can often be focused on process, leading to results-based outcomes, whereas being a mentor involves connecting with someone on a personal level and really understanding their needs,” he says.
Stephen says the Rail e-Mentoring program is achieving its goal of the cross-fertilisation of ideas across the rail industry.
“With a huge amount of work in our industry in the next few years, people are more naturally open to sharing ideas which benefit the whole industry,” he says.
“I like to think that the days that we all competed against each other and kept our good ideas hidden are hopefully behind us.”
In terms what industry should do to support younger talent, Stephen says it is essential to focus on making our industry a better place to work.
“That means becoming a more diverse industry with less stress from high workloads and unrealistic deadlines.”
Senior Sustainability Advisor, Inland Rail
Brodie is an environment and sustainability professional with more than 15 years’ experience across the rail industry, public sector and aviation.
Originally from Townsville in Australia, he started his professional career performing ecological research and regulatory roles before moving into the aviation sector in 2009, diversifying his skillset to include sustainability. In 2014, he moved to New Zealand to take up the role of Environmental Manager at Christchurch Airport.
Fulfilling a promise to his wife that they would return to Australia in 2020, he started with Inland Rail as Senior Sustainability Advisor in February, tasked with delivering Sustainability on four of the 13 Inland Rail projects.
Brodie’s good friend had sought out a mentor a few years ago and went from strength to strength. In sharing his learnings with Brodie, he suggested he do the same as part of his professional development.
“This year when I entered the rail industry on the eve of COVID-19, I saw the ARA Rail e-Mentoring program as a golden opportunity for professional development in the current world we live in,” he says.
“The ARA mentoring program has enabled me to start building networks in this industry whilst learning from recognised leaders in this space.
“We’re all on a learning journey. Understanding that our mentors are here to help us with our strengths and weaknesses is part of the process.
“The ARA mentoring program is certainly an invaluable tool to further cross-fertilise ideas across the rail industry.
“New ideas from the mentees can be tested and built upon with the experience of the mentors.
“I must admit that I was largely unaware of what was happening in the rail industry prior to joining Inland Rail in January.
“Since joining, I’ve become aware of the increasing number of project announcements throughout Eastern Australia and I believe that leveraging these projects to attract a more diverse talent pool should be one of the key strategies moving forward.”
Brodie says he would encourage a transport infrastructure-based approach to address skills shortages.
“Skills and qualifications should be transferrable across rail, aviation, marine and road infrastructure,” he says.
In terms of advice for his peers who are hesitant whether they should apply to be mentees next year, Brodie says he would suggest discussing the idea with colleagues first, find out if they’ve had a mentor and what they learnt from the process.
“You may not be sure or at a stage of your professional development where you could fully benefit from a mentor yet – or on the flip side, the one on one relationship outside of your reporting line may be exactly what you need.”