Energy, Environment, People Spotlight, Sustainability

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a regional business leader from our energy business in the U.S. Northeast region and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Based in our New York City office, Manaf leads operations and growth strategies for our energy business across the U.S. Northeast region. Within the region, the energy business focuses on grid modernization, transportation electrification, building decarbonization, and renewables and new fuels.

Manaf’s technical background includes positions of increasing responsibility in engineering and project management and proven experience as an energy program manager. Early in his career, he supported complex assignments such as the NYC Housing Authority Physical Needs Assessment (PNA), which looked at energy consumption and identified energy conservation measures for some 20,000 apartments. Today he is focused on achieving net zero carbon targets.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

Energy, energy, energy. I’d like to think that at this stage of the climate crisis, everyone is becoming more conscious of the need to address the dire impacts of climate change. This has served as a call to action for me personally. I can help people and communities across the world by reducing the carbon footprints of commercial, industrial and residential customers, easing the transition to electric vehicles, and modernizing grids so that consumers receive power without negatively affecting the ecosystem around them.

The energy industry is generally perceived as the least visible infrastructure. We build things, fix things and develop infrastructure to serve communities daily, but always in the background. That hidden investment into the community—the silent modernization of our power grid—has drawn me to the energy industry. We are making a loud impact in the most silent manner.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

The Next Generation Niagara Program (NGN) for the New York Power Authority (NYPA) was my first large-scale program, and its challenges presented plenty of opportunities. NGN involved the rehabilitation and modernization of the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, a 2,525-megawatt hydropower plant accessing Niagara Falls, which powers approximately two million homes. We entered the project at the ideation phase, when the client explained that this asset, built in 1961, had never been modernized.

Throughout the first two years, as project engineer and then deputy program manager, I helped develop the plan for the project: a 10+ year modernization plan worth over $1 billion in capital investment. We developed this investment idea, backed by a board, into an actual project. I expanded my skill set, highlighted my leadership and technical abilities, and assumed roles of increasing responsibility. During the peak phase of the project, I oversaw 20 to 40 people with varied skill sets and backgrounds and that experience truly tested my leadership abilities.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

On a broader scale, I can say that everything we do on the energy team positively impacts the community. Each of our four key markets (grid modernization, transportation electrification, building decarbonization, and renewables and new fuels) contribute greatly to the community. In grid modernization, for example, we provide reliability and access to clean energy to power homes. We’re working night and day so that when you turn on your switch in your living room, not only will there be power, but it’ll work through an eco-friendly system without impacting the ecosystem around you.

We’re modernizing in a way that adds resilience to the grid and building new renewable energy generation facilities and assets to add clean energy to the grid. And by burning less fossil fuel we are adding economic value to our projects while protecting the disadvantaged communities that surround industrial zones, where people are more prone to illnesses such as asthma.

Share a piece of career advice

Just do it! If you want something, then do it. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to assume more responsibilities. If you know it’s the right thing to do, go beyond on your project work. I’ve taken a proactive approach to career building, going beyond my assigned responsibilities to assume the responsibilities of the role I want to be in. When it came time to discuss my career path with my manager and leadership team, I was able to rightly state that I’d already been doing job ‘XYZ’ for six months. In their eyes, whether it was formalized or not, I’d already been managing the job for six months without any issues, so there was no reason I shouldn’t become the project manager for the job.

We work for a large company. There will always be more knowledgeable people than you, so use that network to ask questions. Ask the right questions. The more you do, the more poised you will be for a larger role within the organization.

Early in your career, it can be difficult to understand or find your path. Get yourself involved in as many things as possible, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and work on honing your communication skills so people will be able to agree with your strategies and ideas. And make sure you have a well-established network of mentors.

Manaf Al-Aryedh

Originally published Aug 17, 2022

Author: Manaf Al-Aryedh

Manaf is a regional business leader in AECOM's energy business in the U.S. Northeast region.