Senior Engineer / Toyota Australia
When Alicia’s high school teacher advised her that she wouldn’t get the grades to study automotive engineering at University, it only made her want it more. The second youngest of five children, it seems that nudging the limits has always been second nature to this success junkie, who clearly remembers pushing herself at a young age, because she was constantly reminded that she was a ‘girl’.
Here are some stats for you. For the last twenty years, the number of young people, especially girls, studying engineering related subjects during Year 12 has been declining steadily, year on year. While in the engineering industry, Australia is currently faced with severe talent shortage. In 2014-15 skilled migration supplied more engineers to the field than Australia’s education system did. When you look closely, engineering is all around. It’s integral to medicine, technology, communication, food production – everything around us that we value and rely on, including the automotive industry.
It seems that motivation, passion and an opportunistic attitude has driven Alicia Krsticevic her entire life, and especially to help her succeed within the engineering department at Toyota. But, just like any gripping story, Alicia’s doesn’t stop here. In today’s #careerstory Alicia gives us a backstage pass on her illustrious career, starting from her time growing up, to her time at high school, and how she selected her subjects for her double degree at university. This #careerstory shows how engineering is actually a really diverse, profitable and creative career choice, especially for girls!
Let’s dive in.
Hey Alicia, can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in a farming community in the western suburbs of Melbourne. My father was the sole income earner while mum looked after the household. I am the second youngest of five children and often found myself outside with my brothers on a tractor or motorbike. I remember being reminded I was a girl so pushing the limits and doing things our male counterparts could do became a priority of mine. I also remember a high school teacher advising me I wouldn’t be able to get the grades for automotive engineering and here I am today. You see I am very driven, and when people say I can’t- it only makes me want it more!
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to school at Mackillop Catholic Regional College. I remember liking school but also remember it being quite awkward. I remember hanging around with people that didn’t necessarily bring out the best in me and would often hear nasty things they said about me. I guess I didn’t really know the person I wanted to be back then. I remember starting Year 12 as college captain and going home to my mum crying saying I couldn’t do it. The pressure was too much. My mother had quite a tough nature when it came to me breaking down and suggested I get over it.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I don’t think the school had any influence about the course I selected. Being my father had his own business; I had grasped a firm understanding about business from an early age. My sister whom I have always admired, had been quite successful majoring in Accounting and Finance. I had also been excited about engineering careers I heard of; working overseas, making cars, high income!
Yeah, that does sound appealing! Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I completed work experience with two of my aunties. One owned a Real Estate Agency, I have always loved property and of late have had quite a lot of experience in property development, however back then I didn’t consider it as a career. The second auntie was a hairdresser, and I have always loved the idea of being a hairdresser.
Mum being a hairdresser herself before having children quickly shot down that idea. We were discussing this recently and she stated “Aren’t you glad I did, look at your success!”.
I replied “I think I would have been successful whatever I decided to do!” I don’t say that in an overconfident manner I just truly believe if you have the drive you can make any situation work.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them.
I completed a double degree in Commerce and Engineering majoring in Accounting and Mechanical at Deakin University. The reasons behind my selection for Accounting, besides my sister already having done this, was that I noticed many of the other majors ie. Management, Marketing etc. were careers that I knew of people entering without even having these degrees, however walking into PWC (Australia’s leading accounting firm) was going to be fairly difficult without an accounting degree. I also had to complete summer subjects to ensure I had covered all of my CA (chartered accountant) requirements if I decided to go down that avenue. Mechanical was selected at the idea of making cars. I had preempted the demise of manufacturing in Australia and therefore wanted to ensure I had a back up hence the accounting or more broadly commerce degree.
I would highly recommend a double degree to anyone considering university studies not only does it provide you a back up, the recognition I have received when interviewing or networking with people, has been amazing.
We have had so many women talk about the pro’s of a double degree, it’s great to see that has worked out favourably for you. Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
As I stated having the double degree allowed me to have that choice. Before I completed university I had been offered to start as a graduate for PWC, Ford and Toyota. Being that my work experience had been completed at Toyota, I was carrying out my final year project with them, it was close to home and had an appealing pay packet, the decision was the right one for me. I started work for Toyota before sitting my final exams. I had always worked whilst at uni so this was not difficult for me.
My first year in the work force saw me married to my high school sweetheart, we opened our first cafe (which he ran) and built our first townhouse project. That is very much us when it rains it pours. Since then I continued to have a successful career with Toyota travelling To Japan numerous times for a month at a time, as well as interstate. My successful career allowed us to complete another two townhouse projects and my husband just fitted out and opened another cafe.
WOW, that is taking productivity to another level. How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I got into Toyota initially when I bumped into a guy I knew from high school, we got talking and his mum stated she worked at Toyota and that their accounting department may be able to provide some vacation work. I was so excited, I met with the Head of Accounting who is one of the many kick ass woman I have now had the pleasure of meeting and I worked through the summer. Then thanks to another amazing guy who got me over into the engineering department (where I still am today) for the mid year holidays. I am a big believer in networking you never know when you might need someone but be sure to return the favour and help others where you can.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
The last few years have seen Car Manufacturing in Australia fall to its knees. Manufacturing at Toyota will close in 2017 with opportunities still present in the sales and distribution company. I think the hardest thing for me now is being a mother. I have been so fortunate unlike many others but the only person holding my career back is me.
Yes, 2017 does see some extraordinary changes in the the Australian automotive industry, but sounds like you LOVE your job. What does a typical business day look like for you ALicia?
Depending on where the vehicle life cycle was at, you could find me on a test track performing vehicle evaluations, meetings with suppliers, design reviews in Japan, protobuild activities, meetings with purchasing, costing evaluation, part and colour evaluations. More recently I worked on customer feedback and started working with dealers both locally and interstate. This involved tear down analysis at the dealership and direct contact with the customer.
Sounds absolutely fascinating and so complex at the same time! Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My eldest sister Olivia. We have so many similar interests. It could be that her interests became mine, because I watched her so much being 6 years younger. From fashion to property, business to fitness. Olivia now resides in London and we still manage to buy the same bikini or decorate our houses similar- without even discussing. Olivia is my soundboard on many issues.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in a career in engineering, or even accounting?
I am a big advocate for woman in engineering as woman are great problem solvers. While you need a strong background in maths to get through the university course, it’s actually not what you have to do on a daily basis. My strengths are now lean manufacturing, continual improvement, project and crisis management which I have been able to apply in property development as well as my everyday life. It is an extremely rewarding career both emotionally and financially. For any girl going into a male dominated work place make sure you make your mark! Have confidence and know you are great as an equal not just a female.
It’s time for our favourite part of the interview. Can you list your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: Working in the Auto Industry the main thing I would look at is Go Auto Weekly just to see new model releases, news about other Car Manufacturers etc.
For property development I am constantly searching images for inspiration, and love magazines like Belle.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: I mainly follow family and friends
- Books: I love reading and many books are often about empowering woman. Just to name a few The Widow Clicquot all about the success of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, after loosing her husband built an Empire. Mirielle Guiliano who wrote French Woman Don’t get Fat, and my favourite Woman, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire. Of late due to my travels Woman of the Outback, a memoir of many strong woman’s encounters in our harsh Australian Outback. And currently in my hands We of the Never Never, a beautiful description from Jeannie Gunn about the year she did the unthinkable and accompanied her new husband to the Elsey Station in the NT.
- People: My sister Olivia, my mama for giving me strength and love, my amazing husband who justs keeps on surprising me, my children in particular my little girl who demonstrates such strength at such a young age and showers me with love and affection everyday!! And lastly my best friend who was recently diagnosed with MS, the realisation that not much matters but health- anything else is a bonus.
- Others: Yoga and gym, strength inside and out!