The translator - with Rebecca Jackson

Environmental engineer for Tonkin + Taylor and professional coach and mentor Rebecca Jackson is an ACE Awards judge and, this year, co-convenor. Find out more about what she's looking for in a winning ACE Awards entry.

Rebecca Jackson

Rebecca Jackson

What kind of projects can enter into the ACE Awards?

All sorts!

When I first joined the judging panel in 2016, there was a big focus on structural, geotechnical and roading projects and the Canterbury re-build. We're now seeing more and more technology-based projects, and a sustainability focus is on the rise. ACE is about consulting and engineering, and I love the increased variety in entries we're seeing.

One of the great things about the ACE Awards is that projects of different scales can win gold. For example, in 2018, Ruamoko Solutions won gold for the renovation of the Robert Scott statue for the Christchurch City Council. In 2020, The Well-Connected Alliance won gold for the $1.4b Waterview Connection project. Two significantly different projects in terms of size, both of which deservedly took a gold award.

I've also been fortunate to have been on the judging panel for several entries where consultants had done work offshore. Unfortunately, we don't travel to view those projects, but I live in hope!

How does your role as an environmental engineer relate to being a judge for the prestigious ACE Awards?

I was asked to join the ACE Awards judging panel because of my ability to think laterally, bring different perspectives and my environmental engineering background.

It sounds shocking, but I was also the first woman to be appointed in 2016. I'm seeing more women on the judging panel now, and I love that ACE New Zealand has diversity as a core value.

Rebecca Jackson judges panel

ACE Awards judges at the moderation meeting

Who else is on the judging panel with you?

David Bridges has been a judge of the awards for 20 years. Other than him and I, there's no one else set in stone. Every year, based on the types of entries we receive - we invite consultants and engineers with the appropriate skillset.

Isn't that amazing?

Can you explain the ACE Awards judging process?

It's a fascinating process that starts with ACE New Zealand calling for expressions of interest. We read each expression of interest and then invite the relevant consultants and engineers with the appropriate skills based on those entries. So every year, the judges change, and there are sometimes up to 25 judges.

Once the official submissions start to flow in (which is where we are up to now - entries close 30 of this month), we allocate judges to each submission depending on the skills required to assess each entry's merits. A judge might be assigned 4 – 6 entries.

Every entry has four judges assess it - a lead judge, a visiting judge, and two reading judges. Over the next few weeks, the lead and visiting judge visit the client to gain an overview of the project. To maintain objectivity, we never talk to the entrant, but we always have a robust conversation with the client.

And because ACE focuses on the business of consulting and engineering - we're interested in the technical components of each project, but also project management such as time, budget, were the stakeholders happy with the outcome, and what was the client's input.

Once the site visits are complete, the judges spend two days in a moderation meeting together where the lead judge describes the project in detail and the other judges bring their industry expertise to the discussion. We all enjoy this part of the process. Each judge allocates points to the project they are judging before the start of the meeting based on reading the entry, the site visit and discussion with the client. The judges then indicate whether the entry should receive a gold, silver or merit award or no award. Some years there may be no gold awards, sometimes three or more. Gold award projects demonstrate truly exceptional consulting, sometimes creating benefits not only for clients but for the industry, Aotearoa and its people and across the globe. It's very cool to be part of that!

It's been great to see the categories have widened a little in the past year to include a sustainability and community award.

Why did you decide to be a judge?

I've met some incredible people among the clients and judges and have visited some fantastic projects in unique places. In my first year on the panel, I was a visiting judge for a project that involved climbing under and over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. That was fascinating!

Another plus is connecting with industry leaders, and I continue to hold many of those people in the highest esteem. Judging has been such a positive experience and so different from my day job. It has allowed me to have a high-level look over what's happening in our industry and has given me an excellent perspective on how the sector operates.

If you receive the opportunity to become a judge, you should jump at the chance. It is a voluntary role but an excellent way to contribute to society and support our industry.

What does your role with Tonkin + Taylor involve?

Over the years, I've worked on landfills, land development, stormwater design, big resource consents, project management and contract administration. I spent a few years working on the Canterbury earthquake recovery, and I have also had a corporate role in quality and risk to complement my technical skillset.

In addition to my role with T&T, I am also a professional coach and mentor. For the past year, I have been splitting my time between engineering and the coaching role.

What's your background in the engineering and consulting sector?

After leaving University, I worked with the Manawatu/Whanganui Regional Council before going overseas. When I returned to New Zealand, I worked with David Bridges for a couple of years, and twenty years ago, I joined Tonkin+Taylor as an environmental engineer.

I obtained CPEng/ IntPE in 2006. My practice area is planning engineering, but I like to describe myself as a translator. I translate complex technical work into something that clients and stakeholders can understand.

Connect with Rebecca Jackson on LinkedIn

Next steps

Entries into the 2021 ACE Awards close 30 March. Enter your project into the 2021 ACE Awards