April 8, 2021

Finding the way in rail – Alstom

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Travel provides many valuable lessons, and Bahar Kizilirmak appreciates everything she’s learned about herself during her global travels. Now as a Senior Project Planner for Alstom Group, all those lessons lend themselves to work as well.

Finding her way in rail

A civil engineer, Bahar moved to Australia from Turkey three years ago, and Alstom was the first company she joined, as a Project Planner for the Sydney Light Rail development.

“I was extremely excited. It was like a dream come true!”

Bahar laughed that there was one question she didn’t understand in the interview, so she asked for a glass of water to buy some time. Her answer after that sip of water was clearly a good one, as the next day they offered her the role.

After 18 months at Alstom she was promoted to Senior Project Planner on the City and Southwest Sydney Metro project. The positive feedback has been really motivating. In her day to day, Bahar works closely on the project calendar, ensuring she understands milestone dates and contingencies. She knows when installation happens, design dates, current project progress, and is continually comparing target and forecast dates with reality.

She does a lot of stakeholder management, as different teams look after various components of the project. Bahar is the main contact person between the site, management, and the client.


How travel helped her career

Bahar travelled a lot prior to moving to Australia.

“I went to the USA for six months, to explore the world and myself. I volunteered in a hostel with Work Your Way and met people from all over the world. This improved and developed me socially, and that experience helped me live here happily.”

Bahar recommends everyone save up and travel somewhere at some point. Her key travel learnings were:

  • You can do more than you think. “This is the outcome of my travelling. I know I can do more, I can speak other languages and learn new things.”
  • Broaden your perspective. “Now I have seen what people do in other countries, not just my own country. I can communicate with anyone with confidence.”
  • Build your self-sufficiency. “At home you’re protected by your family and friends. I want to go and survive on my own. When you’re trying to create your new world from zero, you’ll survive somehow. I had no idea about Australian culture, but I have learned, and that means I can learn something else that I haven’t touched before.”

She migrated from Turkey because she wanted to continue to explore the potential she found in herself through travelling. Bahar wanted to discover more about herself, improve her language skills, and meet people from different places.


Landing on her feet

“I left my career behind, migrated to Australia, and started from zero. But my experience helped me to achieve this role. I really like what I’m doing in my work.”

At Alstom, Bahar has a friendly working environment, generous maternity leave, supportive managers, and opportunities for continual learning. She also loves that her projects are for the community.

“It’s quite satisfying. On Sydney Light Rail’s opening day, my baby was three weeks old. We jumped on the light rail and she was the youngest passenger! I like that it’s for community and people. It makes me feel responsible for the community, the government and satisfied with my work.”

As a parent to a 15-month-old daughter, Bahar is also well supported. She took three months of paid parental leave and had a staggered return to work, starting part time initially.

“Before I left, they had organized a surprise baby shower. They invited me for a meeting and when I entered the room everyone was clapping. They made me a big nappy cake; I was extremely happy!”

The team is diverse and friendly, and they have a culture of positive communication.

“I feel privileged, because they really support me. We are all one team. Health and safety is our first and foremost priority.”


What it takes to be a Project Planner

Bahar isn’t your stereotypical engineer. She has the technical capability, and she is very chatty and active. She enjoys cycling, pole dancing, horse riding, and playing the flute. Bahar coaches young women engineering students, and has her own YouTube channel with tips and advice.

We asked what skills she thinks help people thrive in engineering disciplines outside the technical capabilities, and she shared:

  • Big picture thinking. “All planners use software and do technical planning work. But you need to visualise the whole picture and see the relationships between activities. We have to understand all those dependencies and requirements.”
  • Negotiation skills and stakeholder management. “I’m still trying to improve on this. You need to be strong and deliver what is needed while negotiating with the client. They may say delivery is a particular date, but it may not be possible for various reasons.”
  • Be positive. “This is my entire trick. If I have any problems, I try to think positively. If you smile, people will help or support you to make your life easier, and everyone wants to work with positive people. This is what works for me.”

Bahar wants to encourage more women to join their team.

“They really support women. I’m really happy that our APAC region VP is a woman. She’s a single mother and the first Asian woman in that position. I like having her as a role model, it’s really a dream to see there are great careers available for women here.”

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About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at samanthasutherland.com.au.

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.