Sefanit has been asking big questions her whole life. Electricity fascinated her as a child, and she yearned to make it more accessible in her native country of Ethiopia. Sefi’s passion for problem solving has found a home at Powerlink, where her unique perspective is exactly what’s needed at the forefront of the renewable future.

Daring to dream

As five-year-old Sefanit gazed out her window at the darkening sky, her eyebrows furrow. “Mum, how did the electricity get up there?” Her young eyes dart around as bolts of lightning crack above her, blindingly bright, then disappearing before her eyes.

“What do you mean, Sefi?” her mother asked, used to her daughter’s seemingly endless questions. “I don’t see any lines going up there. Where are the cables?” It didn’t make sense to Sefi how electricity could be up in the sky but not in rural towns in her home country of Ethiopia.

When she visited her grandparents in the countryside, her bedtime stories were read by candlelight instead of a lamp, and she would see other children walking to school instead of travelling via bus or car. “I felt privileged to have so much when other children who had such potential were missing out because they lacked access to the basics like electricity,” Sefi reflected many years later.

“I loved maths and science and I’d always think about how I could put my love for those subjects into helping those kids. I thought, ‘If I study electrical engineering, maybe one day I can find a way to help that region access electricity so those kids can have the same opportunities I had.’ Studying engineering teaches you how to think, how to solve problems. And my dream is to solve that problem.”

As Sefi grew up, so too did her curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Her family moved to New Zealand when she was 14, and then to Brisbane as a late teenager, where she studied a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and Bachelor of Business (Accountancy). She joined an engineering consultancy as a graduate but felt it lacked the support and large scale impact she craved. She then came across an opportunity at Powerlink.

“I started working at Powerlink as a Development Engineer, and what they promised in the advertisement was exactly what was delivered. I got so many training opportunities and rotations, and within each rotation, they gave me real projects to work on and made sure I got the support I needed to learn.”

With such a diverse portfolio of projects and work, Powerlink placed Sefi right into the action, from working on a solar farm, a wind farm and with battery technology all at the same time. “Seeing the work progress from the early stages all the way through to the commissioning and generation stages was really cool.

“It means I get to see how different technologies manage or work on the issues that they’re facing. It could be the same issue that they’re trying to solve, but they may have different ways of addressing the issues. My final rotation was in the Grid Connections team and I knew it was the right place for me, so it was great to have such a supportive manager who helped set up an interview for me.”

A career that matters

As a Grid Controls Planning Engineer, Sefi is involved in every step of the journey of a new generator on the Powerlink network, from application to commissioning. And because Powerlink deals with so many different types of electricity on such a large scale, each project is a new opportunity to learn.

“Powerlink’s network spans all of Queensland, so you have the full picture that many other engineering firms don’t have access to. Our team works on solar farms, wind farms and batteries; and we coordinate with many internal and external stakeholders that are involved in a project.

“We also get the opportunity to understand the working principles of different technologies so the kind of learning experiences you get here aren’t available at many other places. It’s exciting, and with the government setting new targets for net zero, everyone is doing their absolute best to get there.”

Sefi’s not one to let big possibilities scare her. With her sights set on a cleaner energy future for all, she loves that the Powerlink team are united in achieving the same purpose and passionate about educating others to join them. “The environment at Powerlink is much more diverse than other places I’ve seen.

“Powerlink supports us to learn from each other and if anyone is interested in being a talent ambassador, they are encouraged to go to schools and universities to speak to students who are interested in engineering. Now is the most exciting time to study engineering, so it’s great that we can share our perspective on what we do as an engineer at Powerlink and the possibilities that are ahead.”

Sefi has achieved so much as part of the Powerlink team, but we’re sure her best is still to come. Her goals are bigger than most, so she values having the support she needs to succeed. “Powerlink is a great place to grow. There are many opportunities to advance your knowledge through internal or external training; and team members are also always happy to invest in you and help you learn.”

Developing a future

Sefi has never been afraid of a challenge. Part of her job with her team is developing creative ways to solve problems under tight deadlines and performance requirements. “We often discuss internally how we can help projects progress to the next stage so that they can safely connect to the grid as fast as possible?”

As for the challenge of the energy sector’s skill shortage, Sefi is cognisant that part of the challenge is getting the job done with fewer hands. There’s not a shortage of work, with new opportunities being created all the time. “I think it’s a good time to study engineering – any type of engineering. There are so many pathways you can take.

“You can be a project manager, you can be a team lead, or even aim to reach a higher management level. If you are more interested in the technical aspect, you can choose technical streams such as power systems performance, protection design, and substation design. Engineers have transferable skills that they can take to non-engineering jobs as well.”

As for being a woman in the male-dominated industry, Sefi says work for what you want, and make sure you build a strong support network. “From my experience, the most discouraging thing for women is when you go into the electrical engineering sector, you’re probably not going to find a lot of other women doing the same thing.

“But having supportive people can make a difference in your life, both at your workplace and in your personal life. I like working at Powerlink because of the support from colleagues and the work-life balance. I also have a very strong support network from my family. I want to make a difference in other people’s lives, give back to others the way I have received support from people.”

Connected to community

Having lived in Australia for more than ten years, Sefi is proud to call herself a Queenslander and give back to her community by being part of the team that provides sustainable and reliable electricity to Queenslanders. She also still feels strongly connected to her home in Ethiopia, having returned to the country in early 2023 for the third time since moving away.

“I actually went back to Ethiopia to get married because my husband and I both have family there. It’s important for me to stay connected with my family and not forget the language and culture.

“When you know your story and your beginning, you’re more likely to know where you want to go and be successful in the future. But if you forget your identity or values, it’s easy to feel lost. You also lose the opportunity to share your journey with others and create connections.”

Sefi’s story is certainly a powerful reminder that if you understand the past, you can shape the future. And with such a bright future ahead, Sefi looks forward to seeing what new challenges she can find solutions for.

“My main goal is to keep developing professionally, to understand the issues we are facing in the transmission network and be part of developing the solution. I also hope that someday in the future I can give back and help people in other parts of the world access electricity to fulfil their basic needs in life. That would be very rewarding.”

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