Meeting the demands of climate change and decarbonising the economy are some of the greatest challenges Australia faces right now, according to Lucy Finlay.
“There is no greater challenge facing Australian industry,” the Standardisation and Regulation Manager at Schneider Electric says, adding that it presented a unique opportunity to reshape society while highlighting the pressing need to diversify the standards and regulation space.
“Australia has a strong history of combining innovation with standards and regulatory development,” Ms Finlay, based in Adelaide, said.
“However, a generation of technical experts is retiring from the standardisation and regulatory space, with the potential to widen the gap between technology and policy development.
“We need to capture these skills and experience from our retiring generation, and then ensure that we have the systems in place that will enable agile and robust standards and regulatory development that will keep up with rapidly changing market requirements and advancing technology.”
It’s a view shared by James Thomson, Senior Adviser – Standards and Regulation, Ai Group.
“Passing on the knowledge and practices to the younger generation is critical for the survival of Australian industry,” Mr Thomson said.
“We need the next generation to be passionate about learning from those that have gone before.”
Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Physics that she gained at the Australian Defence Force Academy and a Master of Philosophy in Electronics Engineering, Ms Finlay has had an exceptionally varied career unheard of in the standardisation and regulatory space.
At 23, she became involved in the testing of hypersonic scramjet engines.
“These engines operate at speeds above Mach 5,” Ms Finlay said.
“I was asked to design a flight computer that controlled these rockets and transmit the test data back to earth. I distinctly remember in 2006, we were at the Womera Range Complex in South Australia, where we launched our first rocket controlled by the flight computer.
“These rockets can have an apogee in excess of 450km, which is higher than the space station, before coming back down to earth.
“That was the scariest day of my career, but it was fascinating work that led to me doing my Master of Philosophy in Electronics Engineering.”
She urges the next generation to buck trends and embrace career variety.
“Learn your craft and look for opportunities. If you are interested in tech, use your 20s to become the expert in your domain. Whatever domain you choose, whatever interests you – become an expert in that area and learn as much as you can and then look for opportunities — because there are opportunities.”
In 2009, Ms Finlay was part of coal seam gas development in Queensland and northern NSW.
“One night, I was onsite performing well analysis to understand exactly where the coal beds were, and it just so happened that the logging equipment broke down and no one knew what to do,” she recalls.
“Running a drilling rig can cost in excess of $20,000 a day, so every hour of down time presents significant costs.
“It was a night of pouring rain; you’ve got this drill site which was a foot deep in mud and I thought I might be able to solve the problem.
“So, I jumped in, going from one role to understanding a vastly different problem and fixing it. We got it fixed about 4am or 5am in the morning and I’ll never forget seeing the sun rise that morning.”
Developing infrastructure programs and intelligent transport systems — notably the electronic signs in Brisbane’s Legacy Way Tunnel — for the Department of Transport and Main Roads in Queensland further broadened Ms Finlay’s safety experience.
“You need to buck the trend because there’s a belief that people should enter an industry, stay in that industry and become the best in that industry that they can,” Ms Finlay said.
“I believe that you need to ‘learn how to learn’. That is what my Physics degree gave me. I learnt how to learn from first principles and then by leveraging each experience throughout my career, I wasn't afraid to change industries as required.
“The common themes of my career are electronics and energy. I have applied and used those skills to design many things from medical devices to flight computers for hypersonic rockets. I have worked in oil and gas, infrastructure delivery, developed control systems for aluminium smelters, intelligent transport systems and even worked with home and building automation products.
“Spend your 20s becoming an expert in your craft, which is what I really tried to do, and get as many different experiences as you can."
Embracing career variety will bring greater satisfaction and ability in the standardisation and regulatory space.
“In this space, you are presented with problems, and you think about them from many angles and levels simultaneously. Being able to deal with them at the policy level and technical level is critical.”
Ensuring all aspects of society is considered by industry is part of that thinking.
“How do we transfer the baton through generations to a more diverse generation? Careful thought needs to be given to all aspects of diversity including generational, gender and multicultural considerations. How do we make sure that everyone has appropriate access to participate in all areas of business?
“We need to encourage the next generation to get involved in this historic opportunity reshaping Australia. Our younger technical talent will bring different educational, professional and personal experiences.
“Bringing this diversity to the standardisation and regulatory space will enable us to meet our contemporary challenges.”
Ms Finlay said her role with Schneider enabled her to make a real difference to the industry.
“The role of ensuring that there is a common set of rules, and a framework for setting those rules, is in my view, more important now than ever,” she said.
“I want to leave the world a better place — that it’s sustainable and that we decarbonise — in a way that makes the Australian economy stronger.
“Being able to directly contribute to setting the framework and the rules that will enable Australia to successfully decarbonise our economy is exciting. There are certainly many opportunities for Australia’s economy to grow as a result of the challenges we face right now.
“I want every person — irrespective of what their background is, the challenges they face, their culture, their religion, their sexuality, their gender – to have equal access to opportunities to strive and thrive in Australia.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but working with a company like Schneider, I can play my part.
“Being in a role that is externally focused enables me to give confidence to all those young kids coming up now who are questioning whether they can make a valuable contribution and show them ‘yes you can do it’.”
Mr Thomson said Ms Finlay was an exemplary role model.
“Having professionals like Lucy in the standards space shows that young people can embark of a journey that will allow them to fill the shoes of industry’s retiring ‘greats’,” he said.
“We look forward to working with Lucy and those of her generation in building a diverse standards community.”
Ms Finlay adds: “It comes back to the old adage: you can’t be what you can’t see.
“When you’re young, the tech really interests you. What interests me now is setting up Australia’s economy to make the most of the challenges we have and ensuring we can provide equal opportunity for everybody to have a go at tackling the challenges.
Lucy Finlay is actively involved in representing industry on the IEC Australian National Committee and Ai Group on various electrical standards committees. She is also an active participant and contributor to Ai Group’s Electrical Equipment Manufacturing and Suppliers Forum.
Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.