GBC grads now work together as a husband-and-wife construction management team building massive solar farms in Australia 

Latifa and Nick Smudja

When they were students at George Brown College (GBC), Latifa and Nick Smudja stuck together for group projects and assignments. Now, as husband and wife, they're using the skills they learned in their program on their biggest group assignment yet — a massive solar farm construction project on the other side of the world. 

Nick and Latifa work for PCL Construction at the forefront of the company's renewable energy business unit in Australia. They both graduated from the Honours Bachelor of Technology (Construction Management) program in 2016 and are heading into their second year working Down Under, overseeing the construction of solar farms in New South Wales, with Nick as a project manager and Latifa as project coordinator. 

"The trust is there, and PCL knows we work well together," Nick said. "We were selected as Canadian ambassadors to the Australian team to implement PCL Canadian operations, practices and procedures and teach the Australians how to build the Canadian way." 

The pair works the way they studied at GBC by relying on each other's strongest skills and building each other up.  

"That's how we balance each other out," Latifa says. "It's like we're getting paid to be back at school." 

Leading renewable energy projects in Australia 

The couple moved to a remote area of New South Wales, about six-and-a-half hours west of Sydney, in May 2021, where they oversaw every aspect of constructing a 200-acre solar farm that powers the surrounding communities. 

"Risk management is a big thing we learned at George Brown," Latifa said. "We worked through spreadsheets with our professors, and we're doing a very similar thing here." 

While the move and the work were exciting, their new environment posed unique challenges unlike any they'd experienced in Toronto — mainly the weather. They said the intense heat took some getting used to, but the heavy and historic rainfalls and flooding had them sweating. In addition, blocked roads affected the delivery of supplies and extended the project deadline by nearly a year. 

And there was the pandemic and lockdowns that also affected deliveries to the site. 

The project's remote location also provided transportation challenges. The pair coordinated with contractors and colleagues in North America, Europe and Asia, managing delivery schedules and meetings across multiple time zones. 

Nick and Latifa expect to wrap up the project in February or March and already have their sights set on their next challenge in New South Wales. They will lead the construction of a second solar farm, twice as big as the first, on a site about three-and-a-half hours west of Sydney. That project is slated to begin in May. 

"That was a big win for us to continue operations in Australia," Nick said.  

While the couple misses Toronto, Nick and Latifa are happy to remain in Australia, where they're enjoying the slower pace of life and easier access to travel to countries that they'd only dreamed of visiting before their move. They visited New Zealand in December and are considering a trip to Japan. 

Nick and Latifa marvel at the fact that less than a decade ago, they were students. Now they’re pushing their careers forward in exciting ways on the other side of the world. 

"If we didn't go to George Brown, we wouldn't be here," Nick said.  

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