September 27, 2016 Society

Relationships matter … and five other ways to prepare the water workforce of tomorrow


The water sector is faced with many challenges, whether managing the impacts of climate change; sustainably financing the enormous infrastructure needs of coming decades; finding solutions to water pollution; or moving the water sector towards a cyclical economy model that leads to greater efficiency of water use, lower carbon-based energy consumption and providing valuable materials for manufacturing and agriculture.

The water sector of tomorrow will look very different to the one of today if it is to achieve these goals. This demands a change of approach and mindset for the sector. No more so than when it comes to developing the skills and competencies in water management needed by the next generation of water professionals. Preparing these emerging professionals technically is vital, but all things non-technical are just as important for the competencies of the future water workforce.

I’m looking forward to participating in the IWA World Water Congress, and to discuss how we can successfully work together to seize the opportunities that exist for developing capacities. These five key ideas for how we develop those critical non-technical competencies in the water managers of tomorrow, will be central to that discussion.

1. Help them build personal and people skills. That includes communications, both in writing and in person. Relationships matter! They matter because being able to build trust and partnerships are required for success.

2. Attract and hire the right candidates for the job at hand. My favorite quote in a new book called You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School is “if your company mission is to climb a tree, would you rather hire a squirrel or train a horse?” You can train that horse till the end of time, and you can motivate it and inspire it for 20 years BUT it will never be able to climb that tree.” The point is to make sure you hire the person with the right set of skills and the right aptitude for the job.

3. Make work matter. According to a Center for Generational Kinetics Study, 60% of Millennials said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer. They want to work for organisations they can stand behind, so help them feel a sense of belonging and purpose at work, and show them how their work matters.

4. Communicate frequently and provide continuous feedback. Again according to the Generational Kinetics Study, 42% of Millennials want feedback every week, over twice the percentage of every other generation. That’s good because it means they want to grow, so be sure to provide your young professionals with opportunities to work with and learn from leaders, challenging experiences or projects, and mentorship opportunities.

5. Provide opportunities for career advancement. The Generational Kinetics Study says that 45% of Millennials would quit a job if they didn’t see a career path they wanted at the company (among those who would quit a job). So it’s important to understand their professional and career goals. Provide them with opportunities to advance if needed, and consider creative ways to advance your high achievers.

I have always enjoyed helping young professionals learn and grow. They will be the ones who must find and implement the solutions for the challenges we face, as we create the future of wise water management together.


Dr. Paul Bowen will be participating in the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition

He will be speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Water Scarcity and Drought Summit

Date: Monday 10 October, 11.30-12.30

Venue: Sky Room, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

and participating in Emerging Water Leaders Forum

Date: Tuesday 11 October, 15.30 – 17.00

Venue: Sky Room, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre


Paul Bowen

President of the Water Environment Federation
Paul Bowen is the 2015-2016 President of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), an international organisation of water quality professionals headquartered in Alexandria, Va.  Paul is currently the Director, Environmental Sustainability for The Co... Read full biography