As a child, Jessica Sharp loved reading and watching science fiction, enthralled by a universe filled with advanced technology, science and space exploration. Today, the 29-year-old is turning that science fiction into fact, working with future technologies as a hardware engineer at Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA).
But engineering wasn’t always in Ms Sharp’s sights: after graduating from high school, she initially embarked on a degree in sport and exercise science at Western Sydney University. Almost halfway through, she realised her mistake.
“I had thought about doing engineering when I was younger, but I guess I wasn’t confident enough at the time I first applied to university because I knew it would be quite tricky,” she said. “But once I’d done 18 months of the sport and exercise science degree, that’s when I knew it wasn’t where my passion lay.”
That passion lay in engineering: Ms Sharp quickly switched to the University of Wollongong, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics, Robotics and Automation Engineering) in 2019. In her penultimate year, she was placed at LMA in Canberra for a 12-week internship. That placement embedded her firmly within both the company and the Defence sector.
“My supervisor was impressed with my work during my internship and happily referred me for the LMA Graduate Development Program,” Ms Sharp said. “I was also invited to continue working remotely with LMA until I finished my degree in my final semester.”
Her successful application for the graduate position saw Ms Sharp relocate to LMA’s Adelaide office in 2019, where she has since been engaged in a range of Defence projects.
“LMA does have opportunities in every state and territory in Australia but the programs that were running here in Adelaide were of particular interest to me,” she said. “I thought this would be the perfect place to kick-start my career.
“One of my main roles is working on JORN (Jindalee Operational Radar Network) Phase 6 as part of the LMA Engineering Services Contract team. JORN is an Australian over-the-horizon radar network that can monitor air and sea movements. Its main control base is located at the RAAF base in Edinburgh.
"Additionally, my role in JORN has focused on R&D activities within the high-frequency radar domain. My team is developing a new measurement instrument utilising drone technology adapted with custom designed components. Excitingly, I was given the opportunity to obtain my drone remote pilot licence (RePL), so not only did I help design and build the system, but I also get to fly it.”
“Also in my role I get to interact with a variety of Defence contractors and government agencies and I have had opportunities to develop my software and systems engineering skills, so my duties are not limited just to hardware.
“It’s very beneficial for my development that I am able to do a variety of things. I enjoy that aspect of my job.
“What I have found particularly remarkable is LMA trusts all its graduates to contribute to meaningful work from the very beginning: you’re placed in a full-time role straight from the get-go and you contribute to all the major projects immediately. That has been really valuable for my career.”
Equally as important is “The LMA Graduate Development Program has given me access to leaders and experts throughout the business who have happily provided mentorship and guidance during the two-year program,” she said.
Ms Sharp’s development has also been supported by opportunities to expand her skills beyond just the technical; an example of this is her representation on the LMA Early Careers Council as one of the Graduate Representatives. This incorporates not only the Graduate Development Program but all LMA early career pathway programs industry-based learning and internships, traineeships and apprenticeships.
“I particularly love this part of my role because it allows me to be a voice for the broader early careers community at LMA, propose new initiatives that further enhance our Early Careers programs and engage with leaders from the major business areas in the company”
“Just recently, one of the other reps and I were trusted to develop a new event we had proposed to the council. We hosted the inaugural graduate breakfast which brought together all the graduates who started at LMA in the past two years. It provided a networking opportunity for the graduates with their peers, and allowed senior graduates who have just finished their program to share advice and impart learning to the newest cohort, essentially passing the torch.
“That was very exciting as I’m very big on advocacy for our Early Careers programs, so it is great I have the opportunity to do that as well”.
This passion for advocacy was influenced by her mother’s immersion in STEM as a teacher librarian at a primary school
“Mum always reminded me how important it is to inspire the next generation to get into STEM, particularly females, which is why I joined the Women in STEM Society on campus and why I’m so passionate about STEM advocacy for the younger generation,” she said.
“LMA also participates in Engineers in the Classroom, which is another fantastic opportunity to go and speak with young people about why STEM is such a fun area to work in.”
Looking to the future, Ms Sharp’s career focus lies firmly within Defence, however the ability to acquire skills that are foundational in many technology driven domains is an added attraction of working within the sector.
“The skills you learn on Defence projects in particular are highly transferable across all industries,” she said. “If someone is considering a change who is already an engineer or a student deciding what they want to do for their career, I would highly recommend it.”