Shauna Klaas was a week into a new role as Asset Data Officer at Queensland utility Unitywater when a LinkedIn post advertising the LOGiT IPWEA Indigenous Scholarship caught her eye. She applied “off the cuff”, never expecting she would be successful.
Two months later, she received the good news she was the inaugural recipient of the scholarship, which aims to support Indigenous professionals in Australia to build their capability and credentials in asset management.
Shauna, a proud Mandandanji woman, says winning the scholarship “ties me back to my roots – the traditional owners were the original custodians of the land and waterways”. She believes the scholarship “aligns with working with Unitywater and their vision for reconciliation with Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to be acknowledged and respected and celebrated for that custodianship and their management of the environment and water”.
Serving the Queensland community
Shauna was born in Surat, a small town near Roma on Mandandanji country in South West Queensland. Her career began in the Darling Downs, where she worked as a project officer in an Indigenous housing company.
“That piqued my interest in the construction industry,” she says. “We were providing housing for Indigenous people who lived throughout regional south-west and south-east Queensland. That made me more aware of the social responsibilities for the Aboriginal people out there, and those who are still living on Country.”
She moved into education and training, inducting apprentices and trainees for a company called BUSY at Work. When the global financial crisis hit, the demand for apprentices dried up. “The construction industry was deeply impacted so there wasn’t a lot of work,” says Shauna, who then found a job in an electrical consultant company in Caboolture.
In 2009, Shauna tragically lost her sister to a brain tumour and took 12 months off work. She then accepted an Indigenous cadetship in data management at oil and gas producer Santos. Shauna worked as a technical assistant for six-and-a-half years. “That was where I developed my data management and asset management skills,” she says.
In her final 18 months at Santos, she moved into an environmental role. “I was assisting and supporting the coordination of cultural heritage programs in Santos’ operational areas, such as Roma where they have the CSG fields. I had a lot to do with the traditional owners and a lot of the monitoring and surveying they do prior to work commencing.”
Two more roles in the resources sector followed. The first was with another oil and gas company, ConocoPhillips, which Shauna says “opened my eyes to the bigger operation – the LNG plant, export and cargo”.
Next, she moved to BHP, where she worked in asset data management. “That was my introduction to the real asset management framework,” she says. “Then COVID hit. Because I was in a contract role, it was unfortunately not extended.”
Shauna found work in hospitality before applying for the asset data role at Unitywater, which provides water supply and sewage treatment services for Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Noosa in south-east Queensland. In her role, Shauna processes and captures water and sewer infrastructure and asset data in ArcGIS, collaborates and shares knowledge and experience with Unitywater’s engineers and engages in continuous improvement initiatives for managing asset data capture, process and tools.
Shauna, who has lived at Bribie Island for the past 12 years, appreciates the opportunity to serve her local community. Among her job’s most rewarding aspects is “bringing those skills I’ve learned at other organisations back to the community I live in, and sharing that knowledge”, she says.
Shauna has already completed the IPWEA Asset Management Foundations Course offered in the scholarship, which she says “has given me greater insight into how decisions are made” and “a better understanding of how our executive leadership and the managers in between are managing our infrastructure and providing a service to the community”. She begins the scholarship’s second course, the Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning, in August.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in STEM
As the original custodians of the land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples possess sophisticated scientific knowledge across fields such as meteorology and seasons, astronomy and natural resource management.
However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are under-represented in STEM in society. According to Australia’s STEM Workforce (2020), just 0.5 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population had a STEM qualification, compared with 5 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. Another 6 per cent of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold a VET STEM qualification, compared with 9 per cent of adult non-Indigenous people.
Shauna hopes her success inspires young Indigenous people to pursue a career in STEM. “I have young adult children, and I like to set a good example for them as well, to show them that we can be confident and succeed, and anything is possible,” she says.