December 5, 2014 Society

For Young Water Professionals, Professional Development is for Life

When we talk about inspiring change in the water sector, I immediately think about the people who will drive that change – those the water sector needs now and in the future making this happen. We must recognize that the water management challenges ahead of us are unprecedented, and delivering much needed change will not occur without motivated and dedicated people inspiring and steering it.

The water sector needs the pioneers and professionals behind the innovative technologies, management approaches, and cross-sectoral collaboration. It needs those people who will bring research to practice, pilot and catalyse new thinking, and implement best practices.

Whilst this seems logical, it is not where the water sector has focused its attention. In fact the opposite is true, water sector human resources are in short supply, seen clearly in recent national human resource assessments. Beyond shortages, the sector loses professionals every day to more competitive sectors. In part this is due to the lack of investment in people, whether remuneration, motivation or professional updating and learning.

Add to this a workforce that is ageing and soon to be retiring. A hard to replace knowledge loss is a very real possibility, with it comes the beginnings of a human resources and skills crisis: one that will potential lead to larger shortages of personnel in the near future.

We can counter this by working on the positives: driving more professionals to enter the water sector and working beyond our sector to develop water specialists in all sectors that influence water management. We can start by attracting existing professionals from other sectors, but our greatest resource potential lies with young people, whether students or young professionals. We need to communicate our world of career opportunities and invest in making the sector, as well as water related jobs in other sectors, more attractive.

The International Water Association’s Young Water Professionals conference taking place Taiwan (7-11 December, 2014), for example, offers career development advice and network opportunities for water professionals at the start of their careers. Workshops in which a panel of experienced water professionals from a variety of backgrounds openly discuss opportunities in the water sector, and provide tips and tricks for pursuing water careers, offer invaluable and thought provoking advice.

Those of us in the water sector must assist the development of Young Water Professionals so that they are better able to cope, mitigate and adapt to the challenging and changing water world. This requires professionals that are not only motivated and qualified to begin with, but are continuously up to date about developments in their field, ensuring a continuation of the learning process throughout their entire life.

This concept of lifelong learning is not new, and is supported by the 70/20/10 framework that was developed with the aim to rethink learning. It argues that 10% of your learning will be through formal education, 20% through social learning, mentoring and networking, and more than 70% through learning by doing (working in your field).

This concept informs this year’s IWA YWP conference, and other YWP events, in the form of mentoring, skills and professional development. We are entering a new era with the IWA evolving its role as a learning organisation. The IWA will be starting to build mechanisms for the professional updating and learning (online and onsite) that will allow Young Water Professionals to develop professionally and prepare themselves to become the next water leaders.

Stay tuned for more!


To learn more about Young Water Professionals visit