CEDA member profile: GHD



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Jill Hannaford, Technical Services Leader – Australia, GHD

Can you tell me a bit about GHD?

GHD provides engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services to create lasting community benefit together with our clients. The company was founded in 1928 in Melbourne and today we employ more than 8500 people globally.  

As an employee-owned company, we are made up of people who represent different backgrounds, skills and experiences. We believe that fostering diversity and inclusion is crucial in delivering client outcomes and preparing our business for the future.

What are GHD's top priorities for the coming year?

Our focus is on securing roles on major projects while continuing to diversify our services. We are ramping up our GHD Advisory business in response to client demands for a wider package of services across the asset life cycle. Our design practice, GHD Woodhead, is also set for further growth as we bring together all design, planning and engineering disciplines to reduce clients’ project delivery risk and offer streamlined contractual relationships.

How have you seen the infrastructure industry change?

The infrastructure sector has become truly global with strong competition across all of our markets. Clients are, rightfully, expecting greater value as well as seamless service delivery regardless of location. There is increased demand for a wider range of services over the lifetime of their assets, from business case and planning, through to operations and closure.

To make the right combination of skills available to our clients, our teams are collaborating as a connected network with Australia and internationally. This vision is increasingly taking shape thanks to our integration of more than 75 technical services. The ability to learn, adapt and apply knowledge across different disciplines and sectors is becoming crucial to unlocking smarter ways of delivering and operating infrastructure.

We regularly host technical conferences around the world where our people come together to share knowledge and project experience, continuing the evolution of our offering to clients.

Have you noticed any current industry trends?

Historically, the infrastructure sector has been tempted to build its way out of capacity issues – without giving the same consideration to using existing assets more efficiently. With limited balance sheets in both public and private sectors, there is an increased focus on changing consumer behaviour and managing demand. In addition, the public has increased expectations for how large-scale infrastructure projects manage their impact on the communities and the environment – engaging the community in the planning stage of a project is more important than ever.

What do you expect to see happen in the Australian infrastructure sector in the future?

New technologies will continue to transform the infrastructure sector and the kinds of projects we do. This may involve designing roads for driverless cars or adapting electricity grids to large-scale energy storage technologies. The ability to gain and analyse data cost-effectively, turning big data into business benefits, is driving adaptations in the infrastructure sector. One example is using digital tools to collect stakeholder feedback and integrating it with geospatial data to inform the design of projects.

What is your role with the company and when did you start there?

I’ve been with GHD for more than 25 years after a brief time in state government. My work has involved planning and community engagement for infrastructure across a range of sectors and for a variety of clients. During one of my four maternity leaves I worked for Xplore for Success, an organisation focused on career resilience training and gender equality. This gave me a deeper understanding of the value of a diverse workforce. Last year I was appointed Technical Services Leader, Australia and joined the Australian Leadership Team.

What have been key accomplishments you’ve implemented since starting, and what do you hope will be your legacy?

Having led the development of our stakeholder engagement and social sustainability service, my priority now is to promote knowledge sharing within Australia and globally across GHD’s network.

Technical services underpin our business – they are what we provide to our cleints. I influence the ongoing development of technical services, including the identification of emerging areas, talent succession and career pathways. I am also focused on developing our profile as a thought-leader and our technical partnerships and strategic alliances.

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion, I led the establishment of a 10 year partnership with CareerTrackers, a program that connects Indigenous students with private sector employers, creating a new generation of Indigenous professionals.

My legacy will be GHD’s technical disciplines and our people being more connected, working more closely together and delivering excellent technical solutions in a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Looking at your career history, how you have come to your current role?

After graduating with a social sciences degree, I got a job as a trainee in the transport sector. This was a fairly unique position at the time and it opened my eyes to the lack of technical career pathways available for women. I realised there was a need for programs to encourage and support women in this area. Fast forward 27 years, and we are well on our way to achieving this.

Being a woman in a technical sector has been a positive experience for me that’s been enriched by GHD’s culture of teamwork and respect. While there have been inevitable challenges along the way, our collective focus on getting the job done has meant that working with diverse people is extremely beneficial in deriving more inclusive outcomes for our clients and the ultimate end users of infrastructure – the community.

Can you take me through any highlights in your career?

More than 20 years ago, I pioneered GHD’s community consultation and stakeholder engagement service. Today, it is one of the largest in Australia with over 60 people. We were the first multidisclinary company to establish this offering and the only one to offer it consistently.

I also founded the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) in Australia, which now has 2000 members and is the largest affiliate worldwide. This has resulted in IAP2 principles being integrated into government policy and procedures.

Another highlight for me is instigating GHD’s relationship with Indigenous internship organisation CareerTrackers. GHD was one of the first companies to be involved in this initiative and our Indigenous interns and graduates are now helping inform our Reconciliation Action Plan.

Have you had any mentors during your career?

There have been many mentors throughout my career. I like to toss ideas around and seek perspectives that differ from mine. When I was starting my career, Tom Pinzone and Mike Polin were civil engineers who held leadership roles. They really guided me and provided great insight into GHD’s organisation and future trends in infrastructure.

Di Ryall (the founder of Xplore for Success) and Sam Mostyn have been wonderful mentors and supporters with regard to diversity and inclusion. My network of community engagement professionals is wide and I value their support and collective wisdom.

Finally, I have learned so much from the CareerTracker interns that have spent time at GHD and I am really looking forward to continuing to learn more from them about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

How does CEDA help the company understand and meet the challenges and opportunities you or your clients face?

CEDA’s focus on advancing economic and social development aligns with GHD’s purpose to create lasting community benefit, together with our clients. The issues that CEDA investigates through its research and thought-leadership are also key issues for our clients and the communities they serve. The high-profile speakers that CEDA hosts also provide very valuable insights from their sectors.

What the client asks for in the brief is not always what they actually need. Understanding the broader public policy picture and adopting the lessons from other industries is often crucial to coming up with the right solution.

In addition to thought-leadership, the opportunity to network with fellow CEDA members is a big drawcard for us. This allows us to connect with new and existing clients from different industries and is an extremely valuable relationship building tool.