Young Water Professionals are essential
Being part of an IWA Specialist Group offers Young Water Professionals (YWP) the possibility to function in an environment they often do not come into contact with as junior employees, or even as water professionals in general. This produces great opportunities for personal development. In IWA Specialist Groups Management Comittees YWPs can take up acting, thinking, leading or other roles, and experience hands-on what role suits them best. An experience that will likely be very valuable throughout our careers.
YWP involvement within IWA can take many forms. As a PhD from Ghent University, I specifically applied for the position of YWP relations officer, because I really wanted to contribute to engaging and activating more YWPs, and this seemed like a great opportunity to do so.
Through the organisation and support of national, regional and international YWP conferences for example, IWA actively encourages YWPs to become true actors and initiators in the water sector. IWA members and their networks have the unique strength to motivate and to shape the future of water by engaging young professionals. Several countries or regions have specific YWP Chapters where YWPs are offered a chance to become Experienced Water Professionals (EWPs), by building their network, increasing their knowledge and soft skills and giving direction to their career. On a more international level, the active contribution of YWPs to IWA’s Specialist or Working Groups offers even broader perspectives to an international career. The IWA Specialist Group on Modelling and Integrated Assessment (MIA) is a good example of how EWPs and YWPs work together, creating synergies within the Specialist group itself and beyond.
Win – win
The chairs and most prominent members of IWA Specialist and Working Groups are traditionally Experienced Water Professionals. However, things have been changing in the latest years, with an increasing amount of IWA Specialist and Working Groups Management Committees reaching out to Young Water Professionals. And rightfully so. Although EWPs do have an extensive network and knowledge base, time is an important constraint on the engagement they can dedicate to their IWA group. The opportunity to divide the workload between a mentoring senior and a learning junior is therefore a win-win situation. But it goes further than that.
I asked some water professionals about their thoughts on the cooperation with YWPs. Albert Guisasola says “Working together with YWPs not only decreases your workload but it also forces you to rethink and discuss your ideas with someone with a different approach, which is inherently valuable”.
One of the Industrial Insight Officers of the Specialist Group, Lina Belia, from Canada, goes further by saying that “YWPs provide a window to the future and by their active involvement and support we can incorporate their priorities in our current practice”.
The YWPs get hands-on experience and are also actively mentored. Borja Valverde Perez, from Spain living in Denmark, the newest YWP member of the group, argues that “even if most YWPs are already mentored in their professional environment, an extra mentor helps to be more open-minded and bring back value and creativity for ongoing activities in your working environment”. Clearly, everybody wins!
As is often the case when it comes to the involvement of new talent, most YWPs currently active in the MIA SG got to know about the group and the opportunities it offers through a mentor or another Young Water Professional.
“I got to know about SGs and MCs [Management Committees] through my PhD supervisor who stimulated me to be active in these structures,” says Ingmar Nopens, from Belgium, who subsequently, as an Experienced Water Professional, has become chair of the SG. He highlights the crucial role IWA Specialist Group members have in attracting and encouraging YWPs. Once informed about the possibility, many young professionals do not need that much convincing, as they can see clear benefits themselves.
Kimberly Solon, from Belgium, one of the lead YWPs of the SG MIA, joined the group for three reasons:
- To extend and build a network;
- To actively participate as an IWA member, also becoming more visible within the community; and
- To continuously learn and develop leadership skills through the mentorship of senior members.
Young Water Professionals attending a workshop in Modelling and Integrated Assessment in 2018
The organisation of (YWP) workshops and webinars is a good example of a more uncommon environment, requiring skills such as teamwork, planning and clear communication in an international context. Throughout the past few years, the MIA YWPs have organised several pre-conference workshops specifically aimed at other Young Water Professionals in their field, which has lead to a rather extensive YWP network within the modelling community today. Such a network is really important, confirms Jorge Santos, from Portugal, currently teamed up with the vice-chair of the group: “I volunteered to organise an IWA Webinar for the group, which gave me a lot of recognition and exposure. Later on, I was asked to co-chair the YWP activities at one of the major modelling conferences in our field. None of this would be possible if I had not been involved in MIA”.
Andrew Shaw, from the UK, a Industrial Insight Officer of the MIA group, summarises: “As a ‘seasoned professional’, I welcome the energy and drive that our YWPs are bringing to our committee. I heartily recommend that all IWA committees engage their YWPs in committee activities.”