Andrew Wilkins provides the perfect case study on the importance of engaging young people in the labour movement early and providing our members with services that add immediate value to their lives.
“I signed up at university O-week as a student and then used the services Professionals Australia provided to help me secure my first job in engineering” Andrew said.
That simple sign up on the trestle table of a University of Adelaide O-week stall over 19 years ago, turned out to be an incredibly fortuitous turn of events.
For Andrew, it was the first step into a highly successful career that has so far spanned over 10 years, which now sees him in the role of Energy Lead at SA Water, the organisation tasked with supplying world class water services to more than 1.7 million South Australians.
For Professionals Australia, on that day it gained a dedicated activist who has been heavily involved in multiple rounds of enterprise bargaining negotiations on behalf of his fellow workers, and has served as an honorary officer for the union. Now, Andrew has just been elected as President of the Engineers Division of Professionals Australia.
But Andrew’s study of civil and environmental engineering and mathematics and computer sciences at university was a further milestone in Andrew’s lifelong interest in understanding how things work and fixing them for the better that developed from a very young age.
“Maths and physics were my favourite subjects at school. I went on to complete work experience at a civil engineering firm and eventually found my way to my current role at SA Water. I really enjoy the problem solving aspect of my role and love creating a better life for our customers and the community.”
In addition to his considerable career achievements, Andrew is also heavily involved in the broader water industry in South Australia as a committee member and the Chair of Conference Committee for the SA Branch of the Australian Water Association, the national water industry body.
And yet despite this extraordinarily busy schedule, Andrew still finds time to sing in a choir, cook his favourite meal of spaghetti bolognese and, as a bit of a Star Wars fan, plays the table top board game ‘Star Wars: X-wing’, which he describes as ‘a nerdy version of chess’.
But a defining feature of Andrew’s career has been his incredible commitment and service to the union movement.
On why union membership was important to him, Andrew says “industrial relations are so important and being in a union can really help you get the best outcomes by working collectively.”
“I’ve seen for myself how the conditions and entitlements we’ve won in enterprise bargaining agreements have really helped me personally and the people I work with.”
“I really like the values and ethos of being in a union. It’s so important that all people work together to create better outcomes for the industries we all work in.”
It’s been to the great benefit of Professionals Australia that Andrew ended up joining our ranks and making such a significant and ongoing contribution to the welfare of the employees in the organisations he works at.
“Professionals Australia has also played a particularly important role at the beginning of my career, but it’s also been incredibly valuable throughout, supporting me to take that next step in my career.”
“It’s a unique organisation in that it brings a confluence of all aspects of our professional members lives, from finding a job, career support and ongoing career development.”
Despite loving his job and having achieved so much in his relatively short career, Andrew says there are broader issues which he’d like to see changed across his industry.
“There is no doubt that I’d like to see much more gender diversity, ethnicity and life perspective in our industry. When people from different backgrounds bring new experiences to any industry, the result is always a stronger, more inclusive and responsive organisation.”
“I also think that recognition of technical skill and scientific analysis is a big problem in our industry and culturally as a nation. We simply do not value our technical expertise enough and I think this problem has gotten worse over recent years. Society does not seek technical advice and does not value that advice.”
“In many ways, it’s a values problem – we have chief economists but not chief engineers and until we take accreditation in our industry seriously through engineer registration, we will continue to have public safety issues and massive cost blowouts that waste taxpayers money.”
With such dedication and insight, its deeply reassuring to know that people like Andrew are in senior leadership positions, both in our vital public service organisations and within our union. The future is indeed in very safe hands.
We thank Andrew for his contribution to our union and for sharing his incredible story with us.