Q&A with Petrus Rautenbach, a Senior Project Engineer at John Holland

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Life is all about taking chances, trying new things and pursuing your passion without fear of failing!

In 2017, a young Civil Engineer from Cape Town in South Africa decided to take a chance and apply for a job in Australia through ConsultANZ Recruitment.

Petrus Rautenbach arrived in Sydney shortly after his interview with Peter Laver to work on Australia’s $3 billion NorthConnex road tunnel. Initially planning to stay for a year or two, Petrus has lived in Sydney for four years and has recently started a new role as a Senior Project Engineer with John Holland.

Today we chat with Petrus about his engineering career and his move to Australia.

Where did your career start, and what is your journey to date?

My construction career officially started at the end of 2006. I was employed as an undergraduate engineering student for Vela VKE (now SMEC) in Cape Town, South Africa.

Studying civil engineering was very challenging for me as I was more interested in all the extracurricular activities on campus than the actual coursework. I had a couple of breaks during my studies and worked on some interesting construction sites in Namibia, but I finally had to knuckle down and push through my degree.

What’s your favourite part of working in the engineering industry?

The social aspect of construction sites really does make the long days go by quickly. There are always people on-site that have time for a chat or a joke. I have been deployed to some remote sites as well. They have allowed me to explore some parts of the world that I would have never seen otherwise.

How did working with ConsultANZ Recruitment assist you in getting where you are today?

My CV landed on ConsultANZ’s desk through a mutual contact, and shortly after that, I was contacted by Peter Laver. From the very first conversation I had with him, it was clear that he could summarise my working experience better than I could myself. That level of understanding (of what a construction engineer does) helped him market my skills in Australia.

Throughout the application process, the team at ConsultANZ were always there to answer any questions I had.

Why did you decide to move to Australia from your home country of South Africa?

I saw the opportunity to move to Sydney as a big adventure. I initially thought that I would only be here for a year or two and then head back to South Africa, but in September, I would’ve been here for four years already.

What were your first impressions when you first arrived in Australia?

I could immediately understand why so many people were moving to and/or looking at moving to Australia. It was incredibly easy to integrate and assimilate into life in Australia.

What was the biggest cultural difference you have noticed since moving to Australia?

Australian English! When I left South Africa, I thought I was very proficient in English, but it probably took me six months before I got used to the Aussie slang and how sentences are put together Down Under.

In what ways do you believe you have grown both professionally and personally through moving to a different country, away from your comfort zone?

From a personal and professional point of view, my way of doing things was always very rigid and sometimes unimaginative.

On a personal level, you are exposed to so many different cultures in a city like Sydney, which shapes how you see the world. This, in turn, influenced my way of interacting with people from different backgrounds and countries at work. I had to learn to be more flexible in my way of thinking, and this collaborative mindset has helped me (and I’d like to think my team members) greatly.

You were thrown into the deep end as your first role in Australia was working on Sydney’s NorthConnex mega project. Had you ever experienced working on a project of this scale before? What did you have to pick up quickly to be able to keep up and perform?

NorthConnex was by far bigger and more complex than anything I could have imagined! It is quite literally a whole different world underground. There was constant interaction between the front end tunnelling team and the back end civil team (of which I was part). The ventilation and logistical constraints of a tunnel were the most important concepts I needed to get on top of.

What other civil infrastructure projects have you worked on to date, and what have been your most significant learning from these projects?

After NorthConnex, I moved on to The Northern Road Stage 3. This has been one of the more challenging projects that I have been involved with. The biggest learning from this project was to be resilient. There were many factors and forces beyond our control on this job, and going back to the drawing board was almost a weekly occurrence. After that, I worked for ACCIONA at Sydney Metro West (Central Tunnelling Package) and recently I started a new role at Sydney Gateway with John Holland.

What advice would you offer to other Civil Engineers/Construction Professionals considering migrating to Australia?

That they should come with an open mind. Many of my migrant friends and I often uttered phrases like “we never did it like this back home” when we first arrived here, but many of us soon realised that it doesn’t matter that things are done slightly differently. If you can embrace the Australian construction industry, there is still plenty of opportunities to put your own personal stamp on it!


If you are a degree qualified engineer who is considering moving from South Africa to Australia or New Zealand, we would like to hear from you! Get in touch with our Recruiters on LinkedIn or send your CV in Word format at careers@consultanz.com.au

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