EPIC journey from Yemen to Melbourne

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As a specialist bridge and tunnel engineer, Mohammed Hassan is familiar with highs and lows.

But even he couldn’t have predicted the twists and turns that would take the 31-year-old from Yemen to Wuhan and back again, before finally landing a job on some of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in Melbourne’s east.

Mohammed joined the Level Crossing Removal Project in January 2023, employed through the project’s Engineering Pathways Industry Cadetship (EPIC), an 18-month program for refugee and asylum seeker engineers working on major transport infrastructure projects. The industry-first program aims to bridge the gap faced by new Australians in matching their international qualifications to Australian workforce requirements.

While completing a graduate certificate in Infrastructure Engineering Management as part of the program, Mohammed has been gaining on-the-job training while working on the Bedford Road, Ringwood and Dublin Road, Ringwood East level crossing removal projects.

“In the beginning, it was difficult because it was my first job here and very different, but the team has really helped me by letting me take it step by step,” Mohammed said.

“My manager and my team are always there to support me and are so friendly. They always help me and give me the feeling that they want me to be a success.”

Mohammed graduated high school in Yemen in 2010, when the country was on the brink of civil war. With his family’s encouragement, he accepted a scholarship to study civil engineering at Southwest Jiaotong University in China, earning a further scholarship to complete a three-year Masters in Bridge and Tunnel Engineering.

Fluent in Mandarin, and with war continuing to ravage his homeland, Mohammed decided to stay in China and in 2019 accepted a job with an international engineering firm based in Wuhan.

“Yeah, Wuhan. Everyone knows Wuhan now,” he said.

As the pandemic rapidly took hold, construction projects ground to a halt globally and Mohammed returned to work in Yemen in 2020, while continuing to look for new and safer horizons.

“In Yemen, there was still war and a lot of conflict, making life very difficult. Australia was where I had always wanted to go from the very start,” he said.

EPIC cadet Mohammed Hassan

Moving to Melbourne in July 2022, Mohammed initially struggled to find work in his chosen field without local experience and qualifications, until fate intervened in the form of a chance encounter with an old friend from Yemen.

“He was in EPIC and recommended the program to me,” Mohammed said. “It was such a gift for me. It gave me exactly what I was looking for. I have degree and overseas experience but here, I struggled to find work in the industry. EPIC gives me a chance to build on my degree and learn new things and gives me local experience working across different projects, picking up different skills.”

The cadetship has not only provided Mohammed with career security, but also enabled him to support his family in Yemen, including his wife Maria and 14-month-old son Hamad, who he is yet to meet in person.

“It’s really hard but I talk to them every night. I am applying to have them join me, but it is a long process,” he said.

“I really want to continue my life here, continue with engineering, and continue working with level crossings after my cadetship. But it’s not just work for me - I want to learn more about the culture, improve my communication skills and really localise my life here.”

Applications for the EPIC program open in 2024.

Level Crossing Removal Bedford Road, Ringwood