November 1, 2020

Sailing into a new career amid COVID

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Starting a new job in a new company one week after Sydney went into lockdown would be a challenge for almost anyone. But Dawn Brown’s steady energy shone through as we chatted though, and her natural resilience means she’s taken the upheaval in stride.

As a Docking Project Manager for Naval Ship Management (NSM), Dawn shared the challenges of changing industries, joining during a pandemic, and staying positive and resilient.

Big company projects with a small company feel

Dawn was working as a Project Manager in Strategy and Transformation in the aviation industry when she faced redundancy. In a move that could have felt daunting, Dawn shares, “I saw it as an opportunity to move away from aviation. I’d been in aviation most of my career with two major airlines – one in the UK and one in Australia – so looked at different industries and opportunities.”

The varied skills Dawn had built across a range of roles within aviation meant she was well suited for project roles in engineering, IT and procurement were all a potential fit.

She was interviewing for another role in parallel, and says,

“The more I read about NSM and the job, the more interesting I thought it was. I could see the similarities with aviation, but there were also lots of new challenges.”

She was offered the other role first, but laughs, “I was hanging on waiting because I wanted this one!”

NSM provides maintenance for two of the biggest Royal Australian Navy ships that carry helicopters and light landing craft. Dawn’s team plans and executes the maintenance activity, while other teams looks after engineering changes to improve ship reliability, provide logistic and supply support and asset management delivering a long term view of the cost-effective management of the ships.

They’re still relatively young, but pride themselves on having big, exciting projects while maintaining a small company feel. Dawn sees lots of opportunities as NSM expands and evolves their offering.

“I also saw it as an opportunity to build myself. My eagerness to work for NSM was personal — to develop my career and skills in a smaller company. I’d previously worked for large enterprises.”

Tips for changing industries

Dawn took a leap joining NSM and moving from aviation to shipping.

She knew she wanted a new challenge, and shares her tips for anyone considering shifting industries:

  • Don’t be afraid of change. “It may seem like a big leap, especially if – like me – you’ve spent a lot of your career in a similar industry, but you can use your knowledge and experience. You’ll be fine.”
  • Have confidence in your abilities. “Women often look at a job and want to be able to have 90% [of the criteria before they apply]. Even if you think you’re missing something, the likelihood of an employer getting everything is very slim. Give it a go!”
  • Practice interview skills. “Practice being comfortable in an interview and with your answers, so you don’t panic if you get a difficult question.”
  • Research available roles. “I thought about different industries and read up about them, so I could get a feel for whether they were a company I would like to work for. When I was looking at NSM it was interesting to learn it’s a joint venture with UGL and Babcock — two huge companies! But I was mostly attracted by the work and the fact it had only been going for about 18 months here on the east coast.”

Initially, Dawn thought, “people were a bit concerned I didn’t know anything about ships. People came around to the idea that in aviation we are very process-driven – we have to be! I might not know the process here but that’s an easy thing to learn. And knowledge is transferrable in terms of systems and focus on safety.”

Diversity of thought is just as important

When progressive companies consider diversity, they think beyond demographic diversity such as gender or ethnicity. They look for diversity of thought and introduce new ways of thinking.

For Dawn, coming from the aviation industry meant,

“You bring in a bit of fresh blood. [We have different ways of] looking at things and implementing improvements into ways of working. People see the benefit of getting new thought processes into the industry”.

NSM is also looking at ways of encouraging more women to join the organization. Dawn shares,

“As an engineer, I’ve spent my life working in companies that have a small number of females. NSM is keen to encourage more women in, and we need more women to apply!”

Dawn’s experience is that engineering has a candid culture, where open conversation is encouraged. At NSM, “A woman wouldn’t have any difficulties. I’ve not seen any treatment of women to be different from that of men”.

Building connection during COVID

An additional challenge Dawn faced joining NSM was that she started just after Sydney went into lockdown. “I turned up to Garden Island, and there was hardly anyone in the office.”

“You normally speak to people face to face when you start a new job, but everyone was on skype or email. I was talking to people I’d never met, and it was a bit strange.”

People who were able to work from home were supported in doing so, and jobs that had to be done in the office were rotated to support business continuity.

“As people started to come back, I still hadn’t officially met a lot of people, and people would forget to introduce me. I had to introduce myself a lot.”

Her tips for anyone facing a similar challenge are:

  • Pick up the phone. “Try to build a conversation and get to know people over skype and telephone.”
  • Use all available communication channels. “Once they know who you are email and IM are easier.”
  • Build relationships. “I made a point to spend time talking to people and establishing relationships.”

As she settles into her role, Dawn is excited about tackling new challenges and learning more about the industry.

“I’m very pleased that I joined. I’m enjoying the work. Everybody is welcoming, friendly and supportive.”

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.