The Sustainable Highlands Highway Investment Program (SHHIP) is a joint investment between the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), with grant cofinancing from the Government of Australia. The project is rehabilitating and reconstructing 430 kilometers of the Highlands Highway between Nadzab in Lae and Kagamuga in Mount Hagen. A second phase of the project that will repair or replace 71 bridges along the corridor is expected to start later this year. The program is not only developing critical transport infrastructure, but is also training the next generation of women civil engineers who will continue to connect communities for decades to come.

Maclayia Au and Rosemary Enoka are recent graduate trainee engineers from the University of Technology of Papua New Guinea and are currently working on the highway in Goroka.

Both young professionals discuss about how they intend to use their careers to improve rural communities’ access to basic services.

Describe your work on SHHIP

Ms. Enoka: I am a public servant from the government’s Department of Works in Goroka. I was seconded to the SHHIP as part of my graduate development program as I had no formal training program after completion of my degree. My work involves around key areas of road construction and management which will give us with the necessary skills to implement projects of a similar magnitude. I am tasked to submit independent weekly and monthly reports on the site activities. I report on civil works, material testing, and compliance with technical specifications, contract, and project management areas of concern. I want to learn more about the civil industry and extend my practical experience into other disciplines of civil engineering like bridge construction.

Ms. Au: I have been a general engineering trainee on the SHHIP for 12 months now. I am currently working with the quality control team conducting laboratory/field tests and visual inspections. Soon, I will join the site engineers for routine site inspections along the highway. I get my job satisfaction knowing that the work that I do impacts the livelihoods of the greater population and contributes meaningfully to help them overcome their daily struggles to get better access to basic services. Implementing infrastructure projects in the Highlands region is challenging. As women on the frontline, there are cultural barriers and other social aspects that we must manage as we help deliver this project. In my work I have witnessed the hardships faced by of Highlands people who must carry sick patients to hospital for long distances via damaged roads in need of repair. I was deeply moved seeing firsthand the difficulties people faced to access basic services. That scene inspired me to do more as a professional to assist in nation building through the implementation of critical infrastructure projects.

What was your motivation to become an engineer?       

Ms. Au: Growing up in a rural setting of the Highlands, access to basic services was a daily struggle. As I excelled in my education, I came to realize that I could make a greater impact in my community and other communities by becoming an engineer. That ambition led me to study civil engineering. Six other females graduated with me in 2015.

Ms. Enoka: My father, who is an architect, encouraged me to become a Civil Engineer. I saw life improved for our family as my father’s career advanced. Our family had the opportunity to travel to Australia when my father was studying for his master’s degree. I also wish to further my studies. In my graduating class of 2016, there were 10 females and 28 males.

What advice do you have for young women who are thinking of becoming engineers?

Ms. Au: My advice to young girls who aspire to become engineers is to work hard. There is no other secret to it. Discipline, commitment, and dedication to the goal you set will allow you to achieve your dream. Engineering is a challenging field especially it being male-dominated. The trends are slowly changing as girls and women advance in this field. This has been very much supported by international organizations that are promoting gender equality.

Ms. Enoka: Becoming a civil engineer is very challenging. Civil Engineers are in high demand in this country, so prepare mentally and demonstrate that women can engage in this male-dominated profession and do a good job.

Both women confirm road users have reported better access to markets, clinics, and schools. They have also received anecdotal evidence of the project generating employment opportunities for local people. People have also reported they are spending less on vehicle repair and maintenance due to road improvements.