How can we champion early careers in the water and environment sector?

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CIWEM’s business partner Jacobs tells us how the technical consultancy is supporting the development of early career professionals, with a spotlight on their Water and Environment Junior Leadership Team.

It is well known that the professional services market is seeing an unprecedented ‘war on talent’. Over 50 per cent of UK employers say it has never been more difficult to attract talent. At the same time, there’s a recognised skills gap in the sector, driven in part by the growing digitisation of businesses and their services to clients, as well as an increasing demand of ESG-type solutions.

With a £650 billion infrastructure investment planned for the next decade in the UK, how can we support our next generation of professionals, including in the water and environment sector, to be ready for this challenge?

Jacobs principal civil engineer Matt Aspin and Jacobs senior civil engineer Ben Robbins, share with us their experience of co-chairing Jacobs’ Water and Environment Junior Leadership Team.

Tell us about the Junior Leadership Team

Matt: This a European business-wide initiative, aimed at empowering early careers professionals to help shape Jacobs’ business in a way that works for everyone. Its primary purpose is to ‘zipper the business’ through reverse mentoring and create new networks to help senior leaders better understand the needs of all staff, particularly early career employees. Since its inception in 2021, the team has been instrumental in contributing to a wide range of key business objectives.

Ben: The team’s initial focus areas were determined through idea workshops and canvassing all 950 water and environment early career employees, recording their opinions on how Jacobs could improve the employee experience for everyone. Five key focus groups, and example ‘hot topics’ were identified following this engagement:

  • Consistency and transparency: hybrid working and office communities
  • Staff satisfaction: recognition, compensation and opportunities
  • Supporting and empowering junior employees: onboarding and career development
  • Reinventing tomorrow: digital and innovative ideas
  • Communication: audience tailored messaging and global delivery

What attracted you to the team?

Matt: I’ve always been interested in the dynamics of a team and company, and the age-old question of ‘what makes a good leader?’. I therefore jumped at the opportunity to build our own junior leadership team in Jacobs’ Water and Environment team, to empower employees to maximise their potential while obtaining real leadership experience myself. I contributed most to the staff satisfaction focus area, which enabled us to challenge business norms and push Jacobs to do more to improve the employee experience for everyone.

Ben: I saw the team as an opportunity to develop my understanding of business functions and connect with senior leaders, all while working towards meaningful and impactful initiatives that would benefit my peers. I have been really encouraged by the value that senior leaders put in the initiative — the junior leadership team has been welcomed into group discussions and given the support to grow. I am proud of what we have achieved over the past year, and I look forward to seeing the successes of the latest cohort. Through the connections I made and the experience I gained, the team definitely opened up agile career pathways for me to consider. I am already working on the strategic development of Jacobs’ Global Integrated Delivery model and contributing to safer working practices through our BeyondZero® culture of caring recommitment sessions.

Matt Aspin, Junior Leadership Team Co-Chair 2021-2022 at Jacobs is a Chartered Principal Civil Engineer who specialises in the detailed design of flood defences. He has seven years of experience in flood risk appraisal, management and design across the design lifecycle for a range of clients. Matt is now a member of Jacobs’ European Junior Leadership Team.

Ben Robbins, Junior Leadership Team Co-Chair 2021-2022 is a Chartered Senior Engineer, with a diverse background in energy, transportation, water and environment sectors. Ben has five years of experience and currently undertakes the role of Design Manager on flood risk management schemes. Ben is now a member of Jacobs’ European Junior Leadership Team.

What do others say?

Bruce Chalmers, Jacobs People & Places Solutions Vice President UK and Europe — Water and Environment, said: “I’m really pleased with the contribution that the junior leadership team has made to our business since 2021. There has been tangible progress in all the focus areas, particularly around engaging and empowering the next generation of professionals and leaders, and business-wide communication. The team demonstrated professionalism, excellent organisational skills and a commitment to driving business objectives forward in a collaborative way.”

Nicola McCracken, Jacobs Senior HR Business Partner, who worked closely with the team, said: “It has made such a difference to have an enthusiastic group of colleagues in the team, challenging the status quo, progressing the business agenda in a strategic way — both internally and externally, and providing a bridge between leadership and early careers professionals. I would encourage all companies to empower the next generation of professionals to take on leadership roles and be part of the strategic business decision-making processes. This will help address employers’ attraction and retention challenges and respond to the opening skill gap and war on talent.”

At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable. Jacobs is powered by more than 60,000 people globally who deliver innovative scientific, technical, professional and programme management solutions for public and private clients around the world.

Jacobs is always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join its team – built on a culture of inclusion where all perspectives are embraced. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision.

Visit Jacobs’ Careers Page to view current vacancies and apply for your new role today.

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