Multiplex Jumpstart Program: a Necessary Starting Point for the Next Generation
In February 2023, Universal Light had the pleasure to sit down with Jackson Sarcia, Electrical Engineer at JHA Consulting Engineers, to discuss early-career mentoring and programs such as the Multiplex Jumpstart Program.
In this interview, we discuss how early exposure and mentoring can guide and elevate young generations’ learning and experiences in the built and construction industries. Jackson also explained “Way of Light”, a lighting concept that promotes the balance of the technical and aesthetic aspects in a project. Through this concept, Jackson helped students understand how lighting elements can significantly influence the human experience and perception of the built environment.
First, we’d love to get to know you. How did you become an engineer, and how did you develop an interest in lighting? And just why lighting?
Looking back on my career so far, where I started and where I am now, I would say that I’ve had a different career pathway than most engineers. Towards the end of my high school career, I had great interest in architecture, teaching and engineering – all very different career choices. However, at the core was my love and passion for math and science. But on the other side, I do have a genuine interest in art and creativity.
After finishing high school, before beginning my university degree – I had been offered a 3-month internship at my high school teacher’s fiancé’s engineering firm. It gave me a sense of perspective and a bigger picture of the world of construction, engineering, consultancy and designing. Those three months eventually turned into two years of me working at the firm.
At this company, I mainly worked on luxury residential, education, and hospitality projects, a lot of which involved intricate lighting designs. As a very young engineer, this early exposure made me realise that lighting is not just a few downlights on the ceiling. There is quite a specific science behind it, which I didn’t expect. In many ways, through aspects like specifications and installations, lighting design is a very technical art form. From here on, that first ‘taste’ of the industry had ultimately got me involved in lighting design and engineering.
In 2020, I had joined JHA Engineers – where I have had the opportunity to be exposed to work on more large-scale projects, bringing both aspects of design and technology together, ensuring that each aspect works harmoniously. At JHA, we are fortunate enough to work not only projects, but also on internal and external extra-curricular activities. This includes WIE groups, social committees, as well as opportunities to share knowledge and past experiences. My passion for educating and motivating has continue to flourish, even within the engineering setting as I have coordinated year-long internal training sessions which encourages engineers, designers and alike to present critical topics which may revolve around design, technical aspects as well as soft skills within our industry. Entering my third year at JHA, I hope to continue striving to strengthen our junior engineering community, ultimately to inspire and drive my younger colleagues to success!
Image: JHA Consulting Engineers
In many ways, your starting point to the industry is entirely hands-on, where you land directly in the trade. Compared to that, how was your tertiary education experience?
I studied Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (Honours) at the University of New South Wales. As mentioned, I already had field experience when I started my course. Having said that, I still experienced some gaps between expectations and reality. I went into my studies thinking they would be related to all aspects of construction/building services engineering and the industry. However, it was different, and that was initially daunting as an 18 year old.
During my tertiary education, I had been exposed to an assortment of technical concepts, which typically did not relate to what I was exposed to within the workplace. However, thanks to internships and industry placements, not only myself but all aspiring engineers can understand better what it truly was like to be in the workplace. At the crux of it, university is to teach the fundamentals. The bulk of one’s knowledge, expertise and real-world skills are learnt as the years go on, as one works on projects and collaborates with diverse minds and talents in the field.
Compared to many, I was fortunate enough to get that early exposure before starting my degree. It gave me a better appreciation of what is at the end of my tertiary education. I understood what was waiting for me once I completed this milestone, and at the time, having that sense of certainty was very helpful. This has led me to believe that it is crucial for our younger generations to receive that exposure early on. Because, in all honesty, at 18 years old, trying to determine a career path is a lot of pressure. So the more information they have, the better it is for decision-making. And with greater exposure, this results in more confident and well-rounded engineers in the future.
So far, we’ve discussed your move from the workplace to tertiary education and then to the workplace. The next big transition you made in your career was from a firm where you primarily worked on residential projects to a company like JHA, which directed your focus on a vast range of spaces and applications. How was that transition?
It definitely challenged me creatively. But the challenges mostly came from the inevitable process of expanding my perspectives and honing my craft as I progress in this career. Because, for the most part, I still utilise concepts or ideas I initially developed at my old firm and apply them to these larger-scope projects. We still have a design flow, and there are still typical challenges along the way, but ultimately, the aim of this profession is to design spaces for people and achieve those initial requirements and goals that our clients put forward.
One thing that I find fascinating when moving to work on large-scaled projects is how the conditions of the built environments have evolved over the years. For example, at JHA, I work on a variety education projects, from which I have a witnessed dynamic shift in how educational facilities are designed and perceived. No longer are these buildings just standard classrooms with four walls and a roof. Instead, many are shifting towards creating architectural elements and functional features that foster healthy study environments, encouraging collaboration and focus.
Image: JHA Consulting Engineers
It’s wonderful to hear that you see positive changes throughout the industry as a young professional. And hopefully, being a part of these changes is also rewarding for you.
As you mentioned, early exposure to what eventually became your profession significantly helped your career choices. With a program like Multiplex Jumpstart, can you explain it to us and if it aligns with what you mean by “early exposure”?
The Jumpstart program was founded in 2019 by Multiplex, a lead construction company not only in Australia, but internationally. In recent years, their goal has been to shed light on STEM and the construction industry, focusing on construction management and engineering for younger generations. The program is designed for high school students and includes a range of seminars and presentations about various Multiplex projects. For my instance, a seminar had been recently completed, which focused on the iconic New Sydney Fish Markets – currently being developed in Blackwattle Bay.
During the session, I spoke about my experiences and career, and introduced these students to design and engineering aspects that make up the various built environments they occupy daily. To make the session as enjoyable as possible, they were also presented with several problem-solving scenarios, hopefully giving them a hands-on understanding and appreciation for technical design and the design process. Regardless of their decision to pursue the profession, this program is helpful in giving them that exposure and the sense of experience where they can be more certain about their ultimate choice later on. And if they end up in construction, engineering or architectural design – these sessions are excellent at showcasing the diverse aspects of an industry, and it creates a future vision of where their degree can take them and what might be their career path.
Image: JHA Consulting Engineers
Can you run us through your session?
We had approximately fifty students from high schools neighboring the new Sydney Fish Market development. There were five presenters, covering varying aspects of the design phase – such as civil, structural, ESD, geotechnical and electrical.
The topic I presented was “Way of Light”. Ultimately, I aimed to show the students that lighting is diverse and important. Stereotypically, lighting is perceived as a design aspect, but in reality, many technical considerations are involved. Therefore, I presented a few common design considerations, such as flicker, colour-rendering index (CRI), glare, and light distribution, to help them understand how a tweak to any of these elements to the lighting equation can significantly influence the human experience and how we perceive the built environment.
So you covered the theoretical ground of lighting design. Were there any practical aspects to demonstrate to the students these considerations?
I brought a handful of light fixtures to the session to help explain the differences between quality luminaires and those of lower quality. The engineering behind a light will eventually affect the end design and the end-user experience. And one concept I could show them clearly through these fittings was flicker-free lighting and the importance of how the drivers were manufactured. Then I linked that to wellness and eye health and how one could be more efficient and attentive with flicker-free lighting. Following on from that with the same fittings, I explained the colour rendering index (CRI), its definition and its importance in design. At this point, the students demonstrated an excellent understanding of the concept as they pointed out that specific environments would benefit from fittings with higher CRI to create a more vibrant atmosphere, such as retail or medical settings, where colour accuracy is crucial for diagnosis.
Overall, by having these practical explanations using actual fittings, we want to foster a sense of understanding that lighting isn’t just a thing on the ceiling but has a defined use, and the way we specify how we install it will shape those spaces.
Once they understood these concepts and their roles as pieces in the puzzle, I gave them a real-life scenario that we had to solve during the design phase of the new Sydney Fish Markets. Within the project, we had this ample atrium space with escalators with minimal surface area to mount lights. So the big question at this point was: how do we functionally and aesthetically light this space?
All the students were divided into groups, and everyone collaboratively discussed how to achieve the solution. I occasionally provided some support to validate or offer an alternative understanding of their approaches. For instance, if students wanted to directly mount a bollard on the escalator. I would explain to them that, from a binary sense of whether the area is lit. Of course, it would be illuminated by the bollard light. However, would the fittings be a hazard and obstruction to an occupant’s experience on the escalator? Most certainly, they would. Having said that, the goal of this exercise was never to show them that there was a “correct way” to lighting design or that they were wrong or right. It was quite the opposite. I want to show them the flexibility in lighting, where you can have different approaches depending on your perspectives and their personalised technical/design toolbox. And also to remind them that they have the mentioned concepts as their foundation, so if they discover that a lighting solution is misaligned with their vision for the project, they will always have this toolbox to turn to and make those needed tweaks.
New Sydney Fish Market, Image: JHA Consulting Engineers
You previously mentioned this concept of the “way of light”. Can you explain what you mean by this concept?
Way of light is something I’ve come to use in general conversations and our meetings. I can’t say I’ve heard it anywhere before. My personal take on the concept is just how we use light and how we perceive light in any way, shape or form. It’s the connection and the sense of balance that we try to achieve between your technical, scientific engineering point of view of lighting and the beautiful architectural design perspective.
Promoting “way of light” in a project means ensuring that your end product supports the human experience and that the end users both physically and mentally enjoy the space. In terms of teaching and training, I often bring this concept forward to emphasise the importance of gaining that balance. The aim is to make “way of light” a focus for future generations of lighting designers and engineers so that regardless of whether they are on the more technical or design side of lighting, they would have an understanding and appreciation for the other counterpart of the craft.
One of the projects I feel “way of light” really came through was the current renovations for Marist Catholic College. For this extension and refurbishment, the scope of work involves a range of science, libraries, general learning and communal areas. In each space, the architect and the client had different intents regarding how they felt and worked. So as designers and engineers, we consider various approaches and techniques to lighting this project.
For example, now, when it came to the library space, I was looking into having all lighting concealed. From an aesthetic standpoint, this approach to indirect lighting is brilliant as it creates the most comfortable, seamless environment in which one could spend hours. However, from a technical standpoint, it brought forth some challenges as a library is a space where people undertake very specific tasks like reading and writing, which means we need to provide enough illumination and brightness to the horizontal plane to support such activities.
In another area, much like the new Sydney Fish Market mentioned above, we have an atrium right in the middle, spanning from either end of a building. Our task is to ensure that the area is adequately lit at night. This was a challenge because we had a very high ceiling space of over 10 metres with limited space we could take up. So it was interesting to find a way to bring the light down to the ground.
Marist Catholic College, Image: JHA Consulting Engineers
Finally, before we wrap up this interview, we want to bring the conversation back to the Multiplex Jumpstart Program and the importance of early exposure to various career paths, especially in the lighting and construction industry.
Ultimately, what were your motivations and hopes for having joined the program?
I didn’t come into the program with any specific expectations. As I mentioned earlier, I aspire to continue motivating our younger engineers and this includes ensuring that everyone is on an equal playing field. I want to work towards an industry where no one gets left behind, where everyone has the same amount of necessary information, whether through mentoring or education. We’re often told to make these life-changing decisions at a young age, and some don’t have the resources or simply don’t know where to look to feel equipped to make that decision. For example, I was lucky to have exposure to my career path through that internship. However, my school didn’t have engineering studies available at other high schools. Students would get to visit sites and get familiar with what real-world applications look like if they pursue engineering. So in many ways, if I had not taken on that one opportunity, things might have been very different for me, not necessarily in a worse way, but I might’ve missed out on a profession that I know I enjoy now.
Knowing all that, as a person actively participating in the profession, I want to become that source of information for the next generation. That’s the ultimate starting point and one of the best ways to support and empower the young, not just about lighting but any profession. At the end of the day, that’s what I want, to inspire people to take opportunities and understand that there is no one or correct way to start your career.