Communications, Electricity, Interviews, Policy, Professional services, Projects, Women in Utilities

Women in utilities: Penelope Twemlow

Penelope Twemlow.

Penelope Twemlow.

Penelope Twemlow, CEO, Energy Skills Queensland

Can you provide some background on your career to date?

I am a multi-degree qualified professional with 16 years’ experience in strategic and operational management, project and risk management, and governance and compliance.

I also demonstrate people management, organisational culture and communications skills across a wide demographic and range of disciplines.

My career commenced in the military with experience in strategic level appointments in project, human resource, risk and emergency management.

An executive management role for a large defence establishment required me to work closely with a broad range of industry stakeholders as well as local and federal agencies in the coordination of base operations for the Defence Department.

Prior to my departure from the Royal Australian Navy, I was a member of the Australian Defence Force Investigative Services.

Drawing on this policing experience, I exercise extraordinary analytical and research skills with the ability to apply them to a disparate range of issues and organisations.

In 2010, I joined a consultancy as the leader of the risk services team. Working with and for clients in the government sector, mining and resources, oil and gas, public utilities, transport and civil construction has enabled me to further develop my skills in the commercial arena.

I worked on sites in most Australian states and territories, and supported HSE, organisational culture and risk operations in the ASEAN arena.

In 2012, I was seconded to a mining company to investigate and report on a class 1 site fatal incident. The integrity and quality of the results I produced led to my contracted appointment as General Manager Corporate Services with the client company.

From 2013 to 2015, I was seconded on a permanent full-time basis to two major oil and gas clients where I assisted with the development of the corporate HSSE management system and implementation of behavioural based safety cultures.

I joined the Energy Skills Queensland team as the Chief Executive Officer in June 2015. In late 2015, I founded and now Chair the not-for-profit organisation called Women in Power whose mission is to promote and improve the electrical and electrotechnology industry by the advancement of women within it.

In June 2016, I was awarded Chair of the Electrical Safety Education Committee for the Queensland Electrical Safety Office forming part of the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Among my more unusual qualifications is the ability to drive an 8,500 tonne armed warship.

Can you tell us about your current role?

  • The provision of industry intelligence, including workforce planning, research and analysis
  • Sourcing funding to deliver skills development and employment programs
  • Educational design and program development
  • Facilitation of engagement activities such as industry leader and training groups

My role entails being ultimately responsible for all day-to-day management decisions and for implementing the company’s long and short term plans.

I am the direct liaison between the board and management of the company and communicate to the board on behalf of management.

I also communicate on behalf of the company to members, employees, government authorities, other stakeholders and the public.

In short, I meet the needs of employees, customers/clients, communities and industry, and the law. I am responsible for setting strategy and direction, modelling and setting the organisation’s culture, building and leading the senior executive team and allocating capital to the organisation’s priorities.

As CEO, I am accountable to the Board of Directors as well as my clients and industries which I represent as well as for the results of the organisation.

I must ensure that the company maintains high standards of corporate citizenship and social responsibility wherever it does business and ensure that the company conducts its’ activities lawfully and ethically.

As the co-founder and Chair of Women in Power, my role is dedicated to developing and setting up the not-for-profit organisation and subsequently, to run meetings in a way that encourages decisions.

I allow fair and open discussion of matters and stick to the agenda, so that decisions can be made.

Can you tell us a bit more about a recent project you’ve worked on – what are your key responsibilities, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced on this project so far and how have you successfully overcome these?

The Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap (ENTR) is a project that will be delivered in December of this year by the peak national body representing electricity transmission and distribution businesses in Australia Energy Networks Association (ENA), in partnership with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

As described in the ENA ENTR Overview document, the ENTR ‘is designed to identify the preferred transition which the electricity network industry must make in the next decade to be ready to support better customer outcomes under a diverse range of long-term energy scenarios.’

The team at Energy Skills Queensland and I were key stakeholders for consultation for the ENTR, providing industry intelligence and trends to shape and contribute to key elements of the work program.

In particular, Energy Skills Queensland was sought to provide workforce planning and analysis for the workforce skills, training and professional development work package located within domain D (technological enablers) of the ENTR structure.

Energy Skills Queensland’s findings for the workforce skills, training and professional development work package are not able to be provided until the full ENTR report has been released in December.

However, in line with the ENTR values, if implemented successfully, the pathways outlined in this component of the ENTR report will assist industry to produce a skilled and competent workforce for the future.

As an ENTR project stakeholder, I communicated to all concerned that I did not come from a technical background, nor did I hold a trade-related qualification.

Even though I held a number of qualifications in other subject areas, the technical aspects, as well as the industry language and terminology, were areas that I had to get up to speed with very quickly in order to comprehend and join future discussions.

I am thankful to the many people who have provided me their time to ‘upskill’ me along the way.

Working on this project with the Energy Skills Queensland team and the broader energy supply industry has opened my eyes as to how much there is to learn and understand about this ever-changing industry.

It has also highlighted the need to stay up to date with new technology and to continue to recognise and appreciate the impacts of digital disruption on both the industry and community as a whole.

How did you get your start in the utility sector?

In a previous role, where I owned and managed my own corporate consultancy, I conducted numerous projects in the utility sector, providing services in business resilience, management consulting, people and culture and governance and compliance.

It was during this role that I gained my thirst for knowledge to understand the utility sector further and to continue my work in this ever-changing environment.

In mid-2015, I was fortunate to be provided the opportunity to head Energy Skills Queensland, providing much-needed industry skilling, workforce planning and development services to the energy, mining, gas and telecommunications sectors.

What are the main things you enjoy about working in the utility sector?

Working in the utility sector provides a number of benefits to individuals, but it is not for the faint-hearted. The utility sector is a fast-paced environment, with companies anticipating and responding to regulatory and technological changes.

The pace of change means that there are constantly new things to learn and, for a person who has a thirst for knowledge like me, this is great.

The utility sectors’ transitional environment provides opportunities for personnel to work on big infrastructure projects that can run for years or to be involved with short business improvement projects that may be turned around in a month.

The sector also provides varied work environments, including offices, laboratories, and remote sites, so no day is ever the same.

The utility sector provides opportunities to meet and work with a diverse array of people.

Within the utility sector, you can expect to work closely with engineers from different disciplines, as well as subject matter experts from legal, property, finance, environment, communications and PR areas.

The most enjoyable feature of the utility sector for me is being at the forefront of technological, societal and commercial changes.

Each and every day, I am learning a new and more efficient ways of doing things, thereby improving my personal and organisational productivity.

It also means that the utility industry as a whole is making new discoveries that could change the landscape of the industry entirely.

What are some of the main challenges involved in working in the utility sector?

Key issues within the utility sector generally revolve around the ‘energy trilemma’ – the unenviable task of balancing security of supply and rising costs, while mitigating environmental impact.

However, in the current climate, the utility sector must now ensure that energy is secure, sustainable and affordable, but in a constantly changing environment.

There is considerable disruption in the utility sector arising from a combination of policy, technological and customer change.

Not only is this disruption creating a transformation in how we think about, produce and use electricity, it is also leading utility companies to rethink the future of their businesses.

The utility sector must strive to stay ahead of change or risk facing dire consequences.

The utility sector takes advantage of market opportunities within the current energy system and business models but it must also make timely moves to transition to new business models required as energy transformation takes hold.

What are some of the main challenges facing utilities at the moment? What opportunities will arise from these challenges?

Rapid transformation of a sector that has been stable for a long period of time will bring a range of challenges for the utilities sector.

Changes, including new technologies and services, tariff reform, legislation changes and demand side participation, to name just a few, create both opportunities and challenges for the utilities sector.

Changing business models to adapt to a distributed energy market will need to be a key focus for network operators in order to transform. This will require strong leadership to drive cultural shifts including embracing lifelong learning.

One of the key challenges will be to address the workforce skilling requirements, which will require upskilling, cross-skilling and re-skilling of a large section of theexisting workforce.

Digitalisation is perhaps the biggest driver of change and will require new business and worker capabilities to integrate new systems with existing technology and assets.

The utilities sector will have access to amounts of data not previously available, and will need to be used to gain insights into core business operations and customer behaviour.

This will require a workforce capable of leveraging this information as well as protecting it, as digitalisation of information also increases the risk of cyber attacks.

The utilities sector in Australia has the opportunity to lead the world in transformation of the entire electricity industry.

This has environmental, societal and economic impacts, and all stakeholders have a responsibility to prioritise the transformation to ensure a sustainable future.

Can you tell us about some of the mentors you’ve had throughout your career?

I see mentoring and networking as an essential leadership skill. In addition to managing and motivating people, it’s also important that we can help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs.

Mentoring and networking is a critical component to success and an essential element to support career development and progression.

Mentoring and networking opportunities allow access to an experienced source of advice and guidance, provides support with problem solving and handling difficult situations and delivers a non-judgmental and safe place to voice challenges and frustrations.

Most importantly, it offers access to resources and networks that would have otherwise been unknown to individuals.

Throughout my career, I have had a number of mentors, each of whom have assisted in making me the person I am today.

During the Forces, I was provided career direction and assistance from a Naval Officer, Commander Larry Menon, and an Air Force Airmen, FSGT Sean O’Dowd.

Each of these two men provided me strength and saw me through some difficult times as a Warfare Officer and Military Police Investigator.

From a personal perspective, I cannot underestimate what I have learnt from my family. My mother and father have never ceased to amaze me with their energy, dedication and time to myself and my brother and sisters.

My twin sister and I have always been competitive, but she has made me competitive in the sense that I must strive for greatness; she has been my rock for my entire life and will continue to be my mentor for the remainder. My elder sister and elder brother have always been able to provide a home-base, grounding me and ensuring my dedication to my causes are for the right reasons.

Most recently, I have had the unwavering support of two mentors: Peter Price, who is the Chair of my board, who provides me generalist management guidance and CEO-specific assistance, and Mark McKenna, who provides me guidance on team management, safety and leadership.

Without these two gentlemen, I do not believe that I would be as successful as I am today, nor would I be as sane!

Can you tell us about some of the women who’ve inspired you by their work in the utility sector?

Three women in particular have inspired me during my time in the utility sector, namely Tammy Stanton, Brooke MacGregor and Trina Hockley.

These three women, all Board members of Women in Power, are each involved in the electrotechnology arena, providing me greater insight and depth into the sector and a greater base for decision making.

Tammy Stanton is an award – winning, ambitious and tenacious professional who is the Treasurer of Master Electricians Australia as well as the Director of Platinum Electrical Contractors Morningside.

With a demonstrated background in IT, Tammy also has her Certificate III in Telecommunications.

Brooke MacGregor is an award-winning professional who is the Managing Director of Genergy, an organisation providing dependable and professional maintenance and repair solutions for generators.

Brooke holds her electrical contractors license and has provided expertise and leadership in the sector for years. Trina Hockley is a successful director, executive and business owner.

Trina owns and managing L&M Gold Star, an electrical appliance retailer, wholesaler and rental organisation and has held various director positions in the sector including Chair of the Electrogroup Apprenticeships and Training Board.

Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such male-dominated sectors – have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?

Being a woman in today’s competitive job market can be a challenge, particularly if your career is located in traditionally male-dominated fields. But there are certain things that have assisted me in minimising the challenges I have faced.

First and foremost, I found a mentor to guide my career. Many women have already navigated the typical male-dominated field and have learnt what works and what doesn’t work. Rather than repeat their mistakes, I learnt from these successful women and was advised by them by following up with them regularly.

This is not to say that I didn’t learn from my male counterparts. I chose male role models in my industry and learnt from them.

I understood their approach to work and learnt how they have achieved success so that I could progress and further my career.

Throughout my career, I have always tried to be confident and to be different. I try to have something that everyone else doesn’t have.

I never succumbed to ‘changing’ in order to conform. Instead, I made my mark being myself. Most importantly, whatever I did, I made sure that I was dedicated to the task.

In every one of my roles, I have lived, eaten and breathed what I did. Knowledge is power, so I ensure that I continue to learn and prove myself as an unstoppable force.

Do you see yourself continuing to work in the utility sector?

I am driven to be the best at what I do. I will continue to work in sectors and organisations where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from.

Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work at Energy Skills Queensland and partner organisations, and that’s a big reason why I would continue to work in the utility sector.

Can you provide a bit of background on your life outside of work – any hobbies or interests you care to mention? Any activities you enjoy to balance the demands of a challenging professional life?

In my spare time, I enjoy anything that is outdoors. I compete in half marathons and hope to complete the New York marathon in the near future. I love working on my physical fitness as it is the one thing that helps me ‘switch off’.

I also love spending time with my family and friends, including the furry ones, and I enjoy travelling, dancing, singing and cooking, even though I am not good at many of them.

Due to my family history and life experiences, I am heavily invested in providing ambassadorial services, assistance and support to the following charitable and community-based organisations: domestic violence, mental health, returned servicemen and women, heart foundation, multiple sclerosis and the RSPCA.

Last but not least, I am dedicated to continuous improvement so I am looking to study neuro-linguistic programming so that I can understand how humans work better.

I also hope to be awarded my Drone Operators Certificate in early 2017, thereby becoming one of a small group of females to hold qualification.

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