A meeting of minds: insights from Australia's infrastructure leaders

06 Mar 2019

With Australian cities planning, funding, developing and integrating infrastructure projects of all types and scales, we believe it’s vital to encourage the best minds to get involved and build meaningful careers in the sector.

This year, RPS is proud to team up with Infrastructure Partnerships Australia to present the Future Infrastructure Leaders series.

In the first event instalment, infrastructure veterans Jim Miller, Chair of Infrastructure Victoria and Nicole Green, Partner and National Government Leader from MinterEllison, came together with industry young guns Rebecca Gill, Associate Director from NSW Treasury’s Infrastructure and Structured Finance Unit and Greg Walls, Planning Manager from NSW Ports, to share their career stories, discuss the future of infrastructure consulting and share their tips for aspiring leaders.

Our own RPS Executive General Manager – Advisory Services, Rob Fields – was part of this event, and here he shares his top five insights from the discussion.

Landmark projects are the new norm

When asked how the infrastructure industry had evolved over the course of her career, Nicole Green made the comment that “iconic marque projects [used to be] every now and then, now they are all the time”.

Infrastructure has really exploded in the last few years and I think that the number and calibre of projects planned or in development is sometimes forgotten about by more senior consultants. Australia is investing unprecedented amounts in infrastructure and our cities are in the process of fundamental transformation.

At RPS, we have people working on region-shaping projects across every asset class - from rail and roads, to renewable energy and social infrastructure. Not only are there great opportunities to forge a successful career in infrastructure right now, there are projects happening that people will be able to look back on in 20-30 years’ time and see the positive impact they made. It’s an exciting time to be part of the sector.

Community comes to the fore

Jim Miller made a great point about the emphasis that’s now being placed on engagement and the end-user - “Community is so much more engaged now in what you do…If the community’s not with you or don’t understand what you’re doing, you’re exposed.”

Community engagement is one of the biggest changes we’re seeing in the industry and one of the things we’re really passionate about driving at RPS. Infrastructure is highly visible. It’s often publicly funded. And that sparks passionate views in the community – both for and against projects.

In the past, engagement tended to be secondary to the development process. Today, there’s more of a recognition that consultation should be central, and that communicating with end-users leads to better outcomes.

RPS has whole teams of people devoted to guiding and driving engagement and are at the forefront of engagement methodologies like deliberative democracy. It’s a real growth area for the sector and another way that people who have skills outside the traditional areas of specialisation - engineering etc - can get involved and contribute their expertise.

The multiplication of benefits

The growing emphasis that’s being placed on benefits generation was another great insight shared by Nicole Green - “we’re starting to look at infrastructure from an ethical point of view, a sustainable point of view and a social point of view,” she said.

I’d agree that this is one of the most exciting aspects of infrastructure today. Particularly given the majority of the value is created through the planning, development and procurement phases in which we largely operate.

It’s also one of the biggest opportunities that emerging leaders have to set themselves apart. Through the ability to consider infrastructure projects from more than just a commercial or technical standpoint and positively contribute to teams that generate triple bottom line outcomes for the community. 

With new technologies (and the benefit of experience) we’re better equipped to realise benefits that go beyond the physical and financial. Outcomes that enrich liveability, culture and sustainability.

Soft skills just as important as hard

Greg Walls made an interesting comment when talking about his own growth as a leader in the infrastructure space: “I know the technical side of things, now I need to now learn how [my CEO and General Manager] deal with stakeholders.”

This comment really struck me as it speaks to a career challenge that many people face. You invest so much time and energy in the early phase of your career perfecting the technical aspects of your work, but it’s important to invest in “soft skills” too.

How to negotiate, how to bring people with diverse views together around a common objective. These skills are built over time and with experience. As senior leaders, it’s important that we take the time to coach younger professionals and pass these capabilities on.

Greg and Rebecca’s view that organisational culture, vision and passion are key qualities they look for in their leaders and employers also resonated strongly. It's a great reminder that to attract the best talent, we need to focus on and demonstrate these characteristics. 

Outside the box expertise

When asked about the impact of technology and future directions for the industry, Rebecca Gill said, “we will have to bring different skill sets together, working and collaborating to solve complex problems.”

To me, this is in many ways one of the most exciting things about where our industry is heading. Technology is changing the way we design and deliver projects and will continue to influence (and even direct) the types of infrastructure Australia wants and needs into the future.

To ensure quality project outcomes, we will require the input of people with skills you wouldn’t normally associate with infrastructure. Our sector isn’t just for engineers, planners and transaction specialists anymore. It’s a place for artists, coders, designers and big data analysts too.

About Future Infrastructure Leaders

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia's Future Infrastructure Leaders series brings professionals of all ages and career stages together to collaborate, learn and share. The events aim to create a multi-disciplinary network of young professionals, under the age of 35, across both the public and private sectors.

Keep an eye out for upcoming events in the series by check out the Future Infrastructure Leaders page on the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia website: www.infrastructure.org.au/future-infrastructure-leaders/

Thinking about a career in infrastructure? Check out our latest opportunities at RPS

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