CPB Contractors – Ron Thomas celebrates 45 years in engineering

Ron thomas, general manager of engineering for DGPC contractors, has been an engineer for 45 years.

In his current role, he is responsible for the development and growth of the engineering discipline, which involves the development of business systems and the review of tenders and projects.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past 45 years

The two most important are technology and social responsibility.

Technologically, there has been a transformation. When I started it was all on paper. The ability to manipulate data and obtain output is now much greater.

The understanding of engineering social and environmental responsibility has also been transformed. In the 1970s it was primitive. People were throwing landfill in Sydney Harbor. Today there is no way that can happen. Environmental laws, and the understanding and attitudes that underlie them, have changed dramatically.

A 45-year career in engineering means you have to love the job.

I can’t deny it. What I like is the practicality of the engineering. It’s having tangible results and after 25+ years with CPB I often go beyond the things we’ve built and say, “I helped build this”. It’s super satisfying and something I’m very proud of.

I also like teamwork. Large projects involve working with lots of other people from various disciplines. It’s a very social way of working.

Tell us how you got started

i wanted to be a Qantas pilot, but it didn’t work and a friend recommended engineering due to the general applicability of the qualification and the variety of topics

I studied civil engineering at University of Sydney, and they had about 300 first year students, but only one of them was female. Gender diversity in engineering in the 1970s was an unknown thing. Now more and more good women engineers are coming. I support CPB’s initiatives to encourage diversity. It’s historically behind schedule because you want the best person for the job, and you can’t get it if half of a population’s intellectual talent is still being overlooked.

My very first job was to upgrade the Balmain coal loader, which involved the demolition of an old wharf. We used a steam dredge – industrial revolution equipment, that was pretty fun.

Your career has taken you all over the world.

Engineering gives you the skills to work internationally and I have worked in different countries across Europe and Asia. It can be difficult, but the challenges and the new environments are interesting. You can see techniques you would never see in Australia.

The first job I did for what is now DGPC contractors was in PNG where we were delivering mining infrastructure to an extinct volcano. There was hot water bubbling on the surface, very unstable terrain, and the streams running through the site had extreme pH levels. Setting up infrastructure in this kind of place posed unique challenges.

How does it feel to work on a big project

There is an intensity to working on major projects that people thrive on. It’s a challenge to deal with all the issues that come your way, but it’s also very rewarding. You deal with customers, project staff, contractors and the community. A great project will encompass almost every facet of construction you can imagine.

What is your advice to young engineers

Seize the opportunities that present themselves. Sometimes you should just say YES and see what happens. Most of the time, things will turn out well because you will get a set of experiences that you can rely on for other things. Having a diverse set of experiences, and the various skills that you will learn along the way, is definitely the way to go.

I also think loyalty is important. Loyalty is a two-way street, but if I get it, I give it away, which is why I’ve been with CPB for 25 years.


Phone. : +61 2 8668 6000

Fax: +61 2 8668 6666

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