To read the new report and find more articles about the Future of Infrastructure, please visit www.infrastructure.aecom.com
How will infrastructure’s workforce transform the industry and deliver the networks and services of the future? Human resources leader Mary Finch explores the potential for change, and we hear from young professionals around the world about their hopes and aspirations for a growing focus on social purpose, flexibility, diversity and the use of emerging technologies as the norm.
By 2025, Millennials — individuals born between 1980 and 1996 — will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce, while young professionals from Generation Z — those born from 1997 onwards — are just entering the workplace. Identified as the ‘great disruptors,’ these first-generation digital natives have the drive to challenge traditional ways of working and build a better world.
For these young people, change is more than a fact of life, it is an opportunity. Having grown up in a digitally enabled world — with industries transforming rapidly around them — the next-generation workforce admires those companies equipping themselves to compete in the Industry 4.0 era, and looks to these organizations to help them succeed.
In turn, with technological innovation outpacing human development, organizations, including those in the infrastructure sector, must find new ways to assess the evolving set of competencies needed to thrive in the new workplace. This is not just about identifying someone’s technical ability to do the job they have now well, but also their willingness to learn those skills required for the jobs of the future that do not yet exist.
In addition, the increasing automation of routine tasks does not necessarily mean fewer jobs. People will still matter, and the very human skills of critical analysis, strategic thinking, communication and empathy will become even more valuable as new and different kinds of problem-solving roles emerge.
As an industry, we need to adapt to this digital mindshift and, for young professionals, valuing diversity is an essential part of that. They see diversity as a core component for any forward-thinking organization, defining the concept more broadly to encompass: tolerance, inclusiveness and belonging; respect and acknowledgment of individuals; and different ideas and ways of thinking.
Of course not everything in the years ahead will be different. For example, financial stability and a secure job still matter. But, as members of the next-generation workforce become leaders, change is coming.
To find out what the shifting landscape means for future infrastructure, we spoke to young professionals about why they chose to work in this field, their plans for the future and how they believe the sector needs to change to deliver faster, smarter and better.
Lan Duong (LD) — Assistant Project Manager, Abu Dhabi An ICE-qualified civil engineer, with over three years of experience in designing wet utility networks primarily for urban commercial developments in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Channing Bickford (CB) — Transportation Planner, Florida, U.S. Urban planner with a focus on environmental and transportation infrastructure, including bicycle/pedestrian planning and transit-oriented development, with a specific interest in Asia and emerging economies.
Avni Jain (AJ) — Civil Engineer, Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong A pragmatic idealist, passionate about driving efficiencies in infrastructure development.
Roy Yapp (RY) —Assistant Engineer, Transportation, Bristol, U.K. Transportation technician designing and modeling infrastructure projects for private, local and national government clients, and an ‘Apprentice Ambassador’ and Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocate.
Pooja Mahajan (PM) — Civil Engineer, Los Angeles, U.S. Water infrastructure engineer, specializing in design and modeling, with an interest also in strategic planning, data analytics and storytelling.
Jordan Butler (JB) — Graduate Structural Engineer, Perth, Western Australia The Engineers Australia 2018 Young Professional Engineer of the Year for Western Australia, invested in technical excellence and improving the built environment.
Clara Kleine (CK) — Junior Project Engineer, Essen, Germany A georesources manager, who joined the infrastructure industry in 2017, working on environmental permitting and environmental services projects.
Abhishek Malhotra (AM) — Technical Director, Design Planning and Economics, Gurugram, India Having 15 years of professional experience delivering infrastructure — including some mega-urban development projects — to provide better, safer and more liveable city environments.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WORK IN INFRASTRUCTURE?
I wanted to study a multidisciplinary subject and build a career with a strong sense of duty and purpose — infrastructure felt that way even when I was young. It captured my imagination as one of the hallmarks of an advanced civilization, like the Roman aqueducts (or Wakanda’s vibranium trains). Lan Duong
Fascinated by machines since childhood, I got the opportunity to study architecture and specialized in urban planning. Multifaceted urban development programs are complex overlays of urban planning, urban design, sustainability, transportation and infrastructure, and inspired me to pursue this profession. Abhishek Malhotra
Infrastructure has a direct impact on economic growth and progress. Growing up in India, one particular aspect that caught my attention was the deficiency of water infrastructure in rural areas and how it impacted people’s lives. Access to clean water is a basic human right and the infrastructure industry is instrumental in delivering clean water. Pooja Mahajan
I wanted to: help create a world more valuable to humanity than the resources we use to build it; connect people; and improve the environment, so that people can achieve more than ever before. Jordan Butler
HOW HAS YOUR TRAINING EQUIPPED YOU TO WORK IN INFRASTRUCTURE?
I majored in civil engineering (with a business minor) at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, with internships in infrastructure advisory and hydraulic design, and ended up in urban development after graduation. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in design, contracts and tenders as well as supervised work onsite for a one mile (1.5-kilometers) long elevated park. That’s what I like about my work — it’s so interdisciplinary. You can go anywhere. Avni Jain
I opted out of the more traditional route of going to university and decided to try the apprenticeship route. After securing a Level 3 BTEC diploma and EngTech accreditation, I’m studying for a BEng in Civil and Environmental Engineering. On completion, I will be eligible to apply to become an Incorporated Engineer. I will have a degree, a recognized professional qualification and the bonus of seven years of experience. Roy Yapp
I did a masters degree in GeoResearch Management. It combined environmental law with engineering and technical skills, such as ground and groundwater investigations. I write permit applications and provide environmental advice and support, managing communications between clients and authorities, so it was kind of perfect. I’m still learning a lot, but that is normal for a first job. Clara Kleine
I am an architect and urban planner by training, and have strengthened my skill set on complicated urban development projects. Architectural training enables you to understand the scale of space around you and develop reasoning for any space based on its requirements. Urban planning focuses on the physical and social infrastructure components needed to help a city function for its citizens. To me, this combination of architecture and planning equips professionals to deliver for the present and prepare for the future. Abhishek Malhotra
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR CAREER TO DEVELOP IN THE YEARS AHEAD?
Right now, I spend a lot of my time drafting reports, doing research, making maps and graphics, and giving presentations. Eventually, I would like to be a senior manager with more of an international focus. As part of a fellowship, I toured the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and I really want to be part of such exciting and complicated projects. Channing Bickford
I’m currently on secondment from Hong Kong, working on civil infrastructure projects in Sydney. I’m still learning the skills of the trade (I suppose you always are). But, down the line, I would like to lead large-scale, critical infrastructure projects. I would like to carve out my own career trajectory while having enough learning and development opportunities. Avni Jain
I want to develop to be the most proficient structural engineer I can be. I am open to wherever that takes me. Jordan Butler
For me, the next step is to be a project manager, with more responsibility and input in the work I do. The more senior your role, the less directly involved you can be in projects. And, although progressing higher in a company is something I can imagine in the future, it’s still early days. Clara Kleine
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT MATTER TO YOU WHEN YOU’RE CHOOSING A COMPANY TO WORK FOR?
I look at the organization’s commitment to training and development. I am even willing to consider a lower salary if the training and development on offer is of a high enough standard. I also look for companies with a strong identity, clear goals and plans for growth that their people understand and can realize. Lan Duong
Do they offer you the freedom to use your creativity and innovation? Do they give you room to grow, a place where you can actually excel? Do you share the same culture, vision and values as they do? Is it a company where managers are mentors, with a focus on work-life balance? It is about making a difference. Roy Yapp
As a young engineer, I want to work in a company that offers diverse experience and opportunities beyond my job description/responsibilities, such as working with a different business group, leading employee engagement activities or volunteering to create social impact. A focus on driving innovation also matters, because innovation stimulates creativity and boosts productivity. Pooja Mahajan
What matters most is pride in my work and the projects I do. It is important to me not just to take work for the sake of income, but to do excellent work that will reflect the very best of what we can deliver. Jordan Butler
HOW DO YOU THINK THE INDUSTRY WILL EVOLVE IN THE COMING FIVE, THEN 10 YEARS?
Recently, I asked a senior professional what had changed over their career and they said, “In a nutshell, not much.” For them, our industry’s evolution has been very slow. But, in the future, infrastructure will need a different DNA — to support electric and autonomous vehicles, prefabricated houses, etc. And it makes sense for everyone in the industry to upskill themselves digitally. Secondly, we will probably continue to see consolidation and integration across the industry and value chain. Avni Jain
It’s totally dependent on young professionals like us. Early adopters will thrive and be leaders. How we build, maintain, use, interact with and pay for infrastructure will be different. Our solutions will incorporate more technology and computer-based modeling. Construction will be safer, faster and use more-durable materials. A lot of maintenance and inspection will be digitized, and more infrastructure will be funded privately or through public-private partnerships. Channing Bickford
The industry will undergo major digitization. Millennials and Generation Z are tech savvy and we readily jump on digital trends ─ we expect our organizations to do the same. As our generation advances to positions of responsibility in the industry, we will push for our workflows to embrace the latest technologies. Lan Duong
I see the industry growing at an exponential rate. India is set to have 69 cities with populations of over one million citizens by 2025. The government is building new infrastructure and modernizing existing infrastructure to meet the demands of this new India. Aiming for 7- 8 percent growth, its immediate focus is transportation (i.e. new airports, upgraded ports, high-speed rail, etc.), alongside a commitment to build 100 smart cities. Abhishek Malhotra
WHAT ARE THE BIG CHANGES THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
The infrastructure sector is being increasingly challenged to improve its environmental footprint. The mentality of dismantling, excavating and disposing of materials needlessly has to change. We need to design for the project’s whole life cycle. I would also like to see a greater respect for engineers. The term engineer gets thrown around effortlessly. But, I think that being an engineer should be as prestigious a profession as being a doctor, lawyer and accountant. Roy Yapp
I hope to see: a focus on leadership development and mentorship for young engineers; having an impact-driven, multi-disciplinary approach toward projects; and increased collaboration with effective communication to build dynamic teams that work seamlessly on projects. Pooja Mahajan
I would like to see more green energy and clean industry, and that includes reducing the amount of paper involved in environmental permit applications! It’s one of the big questions of our time. I would also like the infrastructure industry to bring countries closer together. On a daily basis, we are working with people from other countries. We are global right now. We depend on each other. But I feel like people are afraid, and do not feel part of this. I hope people get to see more of the connections between us and lose their fear. Clara Kleine
I would like there to be more diversity in the industry. By leaving some people out of the conversation, we are missing other perspectives and innovative ideas. An organization that attracts a diversity of voices will be stronger in the future. I would also like to see the industry be more proactive with new technologies. Too often, tech companies drive change and other industries react and incorporate. Instead of modifying roadways to accommodate driverless technology, how can we design both systems to interact in a mutually beneficial way, enhancing safety, comfort and environmental protection? Channing Bickford
The younger generation are tech savvy, adaptable, creative and have grown up in a faster paced, digitally connected world. They won’t be limited by the practices of the past, but will complement the knowledge held by the older generation and exemplify the value of diversity.
Young professionals’ career paths will be fast paced and exciting, but different. They will be more mobile. The corporate ladder will look more like a jungle gym with sideways, and dare I say backwards, moves to progress upward. Young professionals will need to take greater ownership of their own professional and career development. But the breadth of their experience will be huge and enable them to quickly advance their careers.
As an industry, we need to market ourselves to better to engage the best and brightest students. We need to sell the positive impact a career in infrastructure can have on people’s lives and communities. We also need to promote engineering and STEM professions as a great career choice for girls. And we need to work harder to retain women in the profession. Finally, we need to raise the status and profile of engineers, ensuring more parents and teachers encourage kids to consider engineering.
Many of today’s young professionals grew up with the internet as practically another parent — able to access any information, to learn anything, at the push a button. Pair this with the workforce becoming increasingly social and you can see how approaches like integrated project delivery stand to hugely impact infrastructure in a good way.
Alongside this, on average, the next generation has greater concern regarding sustainability, resiliency, diversity, and social/cultural equity than previous generations. Project-delivery mechanisms, construction techniques, materials, material sourcing, and many other aspects of the infrastructure industry will all see holistic shifts, moving emphasis away from cost as the bottom line.
They are also being driven to greater specialization, while simultaneously being asked to understand the dynamics of the larger infrastructure system. Those able to collaborate well across disciplines will be more likely to succeed.
In response, the infrastructure industry needs to embrace change, including quicker implementation of emerging technologies, as well as allowing more-flexible schedules and locations. By enabling young professionals to integrate work into their life better, organizations will yield a more dedicated and ultimately more innovative workforce. Programming, too, needs to become a key piece of our (and most fields’) curriculum.
Steve Feeley, Director of Membership Recruitment, Institution of Civil Engineers
As highly creative, inquisitive, scientific problem solvers driven by a desire to make a difference, young infrastructure professionals today have much in common with previous generations. The significant difference is the skills they will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Educated and raised in an era of huge technological change, these young professionals see smart technology and internet connectivity as part of the fabric of daily life and expect these tools to be readily available to use in all aspects of their role. The information they need to help them do their jobs is also only a click away. This gives rise to a different set of challenges, requiring knowledge, judgement, curation, interpretation and assimilation to process effectively.
In addition, the ever-increasing multi-disciplinary nature of infrastructure delivery, combined with digital, means that infrastructure teams will become more diverse, making collaboration, communication, team-working and leadership even more critical.
We’re already seeing a new generation of engineers keen to bring their technological understanding into traditional engineering disciplines where, perhaps, it is not yet the norm — with apprentice and graduate digital champions sharing innovation and digital best practice. This generation will be at the forefront in delivering the smart infrastructure revolution that is happening now.