Currently working as a Service Technician and Plant Operator in the water treatment industry, John O'Shea is a recent graduate of EIT's 52810WA – Advanced Diploma of Mechanical Engineering Technology. His motivation to study came from a desire to learn more about the engineering industry, whilst adding to his skill set and building up a continued academic foundation.

After leaving school in his 11th year, John wished to pursue an apprenticeship in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) role, leading him to join the Royal Australian Navy as a Marine Technician Apprentice in 2007.

Photo of John O'Shea at work

"I guess my true appreciation for engineering came from my first ship posting where I would start to understand the role of an engineer, from working with large synchronous clutches and gas turbines in a complex drivetrain system to allow a warship to operate efficiently in all types of scenarios through to the auxiliary systems such as pneumatic systems, and sewage treatment systems that allow habitability and other functions to occur," John commented.

John spent almost eleven years in the service, completing his apprenticeship in Mechanical Engineering and a Certificate 4 in Fluid Power. He was also fortunate enough to gain supervisory skills and form part of instructor roles - which were generally reserved for higher ranks.

In 2017, John left the Australian Defense Force, emerging into a world where job opportunities were few, but the expectation for engineering practitioners was high. He found that he would need to be better trained and qualified in the mechanical engineering world.

He was soon offered new opportunities that he could leverage to work his way into a new career field; water treatment. John notes that there is considerable technological development occurring in the water treatment space. John specifically works in turning saltwater into freshwater; otherwise known as desalination.

A whole new world of water treatment

John explains that extracting permeate water (freshwater) from seawater is an energy-demanding process that only works at a 30 to 40 per cent recovery - it is also generally expensive and not available to customers with limited funds. To further compound this issue, John says that many countries face drier climates due to climate change, which is another complex issue for global engineering industries.

"The two things I have the privilege of working with are: Machine Automation being implemented into desalination to increase energy efficiency as well as production," said John.

"This is done by allowing specific set points to be programmed into software that then corresponds with daily readings and measurements to create an algorithm that the pre-determines future set points to reduce energy consumption whilst maintaining a better permeate flow rate."

To recover even more permeate, a process known as brine squeezing follows. This includes 'recycling the reject stream into the feed stream, allowing the osmotic pressure to be increased without further pumps required', offering a much higher recovery than other seawater plants.

"This also allows a better recovery for recycled water as seen with mine tailings that are being treated by Osmoflo for tailings dams to be dumped into the environment without any adverse pollutants or effects. These technologies are exciting to see in particular as the world seeks to reduce its carbon footprint," John explained.

Chasing knowledge: the path to a Master's degree begins

In April 2019, John enrolled for EIT's 52810WA - Advanced Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. He says it helped him understand more of the managerial aspects of the engineering project management world.

"I chose this course to further complement my skills already achieved in mechanical engineering and to put myself further in front when it came to my career progression. This course appealed to me on different fronts; however, the biggest factor was the skills taught that I didn't have complete exposure to throughout my career so far as project management and project finances. These skills, on top of everything else, have accelerated my career."

Since he completed the course, John says that his voice is now being heard in the industry's projects, planning, and asset management space. He says he feels more included in higher-level engineering meetings and is trusted by colleagues to make more management-level decisions.

"I also have a much deeper understanding, and respect for management level engineering processes and protocols and this has been positively noticed by my manager through clients' feedback at work," John adds.

After 18 months of non-stop work and study, John feels like he has way more confidence in his roles. Nonetheless, he is happy to have a small break from studying since he has graduated. However, since then, he notes he can integrate into projects and communicate at work with much ease. He has his eye on the future, but first, he is taking a break.

"This was a medium-term goal that I have achieved, and my plans are to have a break for 12 months before pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, eventually reaching a Master's degree. I am, at the moment, aiming to move up to a management role in the utilities industries," he said.

John admits that his still-developing engineering career has seen its fair share of twists and turns. He encourages anyone, regardless of age, to jump into the world of building up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills.

"STEM is a complex field that affects everything we do daily. It is also one of the only fields that allow you to become an apprentice and study through to a Master's degree and still be learning," John concludes.

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