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Welcome to our next Alumni Business in Focus story. This series aims to showcase alumni-owned businesses and the UNSW Canberra graduates who work in these companies.
Jack Plimmer is a UNSW Canberra alumnus and Associate Director at Forge Advisory.
Forge Advisory has a rich history with UNSW Canberra. The majority of the team are alumni, including founder Andrew Cullens. Headquartered in Canberra, with footprints across the country and internationally, the Australian-owned consulting company specialises in defence and infrastructure project management and advisory.
We asked Jack about his time at UNSW Canberra and how it has shaped his career after Defence, including his transition into the workplace.
What did you study at UNSW Canberra and what skills did you gain here that helped you build your career?
I studied Civil Engineering and loved it, but I think the best bit about the degree was the practicality focus given to the learning. There was a real sense of embedding in us that we will have to use this knowledge and these skills to solve complex engineering problems in the near future - and it was true.
On my first deployment with the Army, I even took with me some key notes and textbooks, which came in handy on several projects. The actual skill part of this was knowing how to find, use and reference such deep and diverse work already done in a field like civil engineering. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to look at the problem and find solutions by building on the wisdom and hard-won lessons of those who went before us and then wrote it down.
Then there were some speciality subjects UNSW Canberra offered like Systems Engineering, Blast Design and Integrated Design within our degree. I am thankful that I did these, as they have helped me understand context quickly and provide value on certain projects that I found other engineers didn’t have.
What is your favourite memory of your time at UNSW Canberra?
Am I allowed to say rugby? It was rugby! One of the best experiences at UNSW Canberra was the annual Artists v Engineers match. A great friend of mine in the ADFA Rugby Club organised the first game in 2003, and it went from strength-to-strength each year. Unbelievably for the first two years, those Artists scored tries in the corner after te siren to win both matches! So, I never got to lift the trophy. But the Engineers always won the boat race!
How did you get involved with Forge?
Andy, our Managing Director, and I used to play Rugby together at UNSW Canberra! Andy started a growth phase at Forge and had a client looking for some defence infrastructure advisory and project management support. He gave me a call to see where I was at. The company I was working for then, doing tourism developments, had to make the tough decision during COVID to stand down the majority of staff, so it was the perfect time to transition back into the defence sector.
I loved being part of the team from day one, and we have been having a great time and growing the business since.
What’s the best thing about working at Forge?
So many great things, but the first that comes to mind is the culture. It’s a culture of high quality, high performance and passion for our work. We seek and give feedback to improve individually and corporately. But it is surrounded by trust, genuine care for who we are as people and a sense of purpose in that the work we do is essential and contributes to the nation’s security and prosperity.
I also love that Forge has embraced remote working and set up the systems to enable that flexibility but still deliver on our commitment to excellence in support of our clients.
What advice would you give to other UNSW Canberra graduates?
In general, I’d say stay engaged and connected. It’s a great network of people, whether other students or staff, who have helped you and invested in you getting through university. That doesn’t stop. These good people want you to succeed and will support you, and you should look for opportunities to do the same back.
For some more specific advice for the current environment, seriously consider getting involved in the Australian defence industry. My experience is limited to 20 years, but I have never seen the sense of importance in the work the industry does, level of investment, and sense of urgency to grow this industry as I am now. Others who have been around longer than me are saying the same thing. The work is super challenging and interesting at the moment, particularly if you have a passion for STEM.
Do you have any advice for those making the transition from the military to the civilian workforce?
Understand that it will be hard. Go easy on yourself. Your value and identity aren’t what you do or even how well you do it. You are valuable. You just happen to be in the middle of a massive life change! So, roll with the highs and lows until you find your new normal.
Perhaps I can share some advice I got from a leadership coach at a conference. We were chatting after he gave a talk, and I was giving him a quick rundown on some frustrations I was having integrating and getting traction with my civilian workplace leadership and executive level peers. When he clued on that I was ex-military, he stopped me and said, “I get this all the time from you ex-military guys. Remember, you come from a leadership factory. You have been led by, and worked alongside, the best leaders this country can create! Your poor boss and your peers have probably never had any professional leadership training. So, you are not the problem - but neither are they. They are probably doing the best they can. So, you will probably be less frustrated and eventually more effective if you remember how fortunate you have been with your training and more graceful with those leaders who haven’t been so fortunate”. That context really helped me.
Do you need help making the transition from the military to the civilian workforce or can you offer support to those making the transition? Sign up to our Career Transition Mentoring Program on the Kintell platform.