The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.

We’ve witnessed a revolution in recent years. Arguably catalysed by the Diversity Agenda, our industry is waking up to the true benefits of a diverse workforce. However, simply mirroring the diversity of our communities won’t achieve much; empowering and engaging a diverse group of leaders is how we’ll challenge the status quo. This is the backdrop to the increasingly influential position Young Professionals (YPs) are taking in our industry.

We’ve moved away from traditional hierarchical thinking by giving YPs the opportunity to earn their stripes at their own pace. “You can’t win anything with kids”, Alan Hansen once said (sorry – football quote), but as Manchester United fans will attest, what you lack in experience can be made up by talent. Would you keep David Beckham on the bench until he was 30? I’m certainly not expecting to see YPs sitting on boards, but senior management will take an increasing interest in the priorities of this demographic.

I sometimes see a perception that being ‘digital natives’, YPs have access to mysterious technology that is alien to older generations. However, I haven’t met any ‘boomers’ who don’t know what a drone is or how cryptocurrency works. In reality, YPs have simply grown up with constant technological innovation and are therefore (arguably) more adaptable to change.

Over the coming years we will see YPs engaged as change agents to promote transformation in the business and wider industry. The adoption of Microsoft Teams heralds a shift in the way we will communicate with each other in the future. YPs will be critical to ensuring the acceptance and success of this and other changes.

YPs are ‘woke’. We are all too aware of this century’s pressing issues because we, as a generation, will inherit the consequences of today’s environmental, social and economic decision making. Through involvement with WSP’s Sustainability Working Group, Engineers Without Borders and Bridges to Prosperity to name a few, YPs are taking up the mantle of their own volition, to ensure our long-lasting infrastructure is developed in a sustainable way.
I believe the real value YPs bring is that they are the future generations for whom we are creating what matters.

There is a well-publicised dearth of engineers in New Zealand, particularly at the intermediate level (the time at which kiwis typically take their ‘OE’). This poses a risk to the ability of the industry to service the array of massive upcoming infrastructure projects across the country. However, where there is risk, there is opportunity; we will see YPs taking advantage of this, stepping up into leadership roles sooner than previously possible. Succession planning will become imperative to retain the best YPs.

This year, with incredible support from business leaders, WSP launched our Young Professionals Group, ‘Pathways’, which is designed to accelerate the careers of junior and intermediate level staff. In the coming years, Pathways will look further afield, connecting with the international WSP business and establishing a global presence for kiwi YPs. We aren’t aiming for world domination, but sooner or later, we’ll be in charge.

Chris Baker, WSP Young Professional Chair