How to thrive at each stage of your career in property, infrastructure and energy

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By Jane Lowney, Associate Director, Engineering & Infrastructure at Robert Walters

Sectors such as property, infrastructure and energy are evolving and employers’ requirements are changing too. Understanding this new landscape is the key to professional success, whatever your career stage.

My colleagues and I work with hundreds of hiring managers in property, infrastructure and energy, which gives us an insight into the changing skillsets that employers are looking for. When we are seeking, selecting and recruiting professionals, it’s clear what sets the best apart from the rest: curiosity.

While professionals in property, infrastructure and energy have always required technical skills, a logical mind and curiosity – it is the latter that employers increasingly need from their people. Technical skills are important, sure, but anyone (within reason) can learn those. A logical mind is certainly vital too. But more than ever, individuals must demonstrate their capacity for critical thinking and their ability to question things.

Why do employers prize curiosity so highly? Because technology has its limits. Drones, wireless sensors and robots can increasingly answer the technical ‘yes/no questions’ in property, infrastructure and energy – but only a human being can critically assess those conclusions.

To illustrate this point, think of digital twinning, a 5D building information model that allows professionals to visualise the physical and functional progress of an infrastructure project. Everything is digitally mapped in the model, from the nuts and bolts of the construction through to the variables relating to time and cost. An engineer or an architect can look at a 5D model of, say, a bridge and work out what would happen if a particular beam was removed – including how long it would take to replace, how much it would cost, etc. 

In years to come, we are likely to have a 5D model like this for every built asset in Australia. If the digital twin is accurate then employers will need fewer people to undertake physical inspections or surveys. However, employers will still need professionals to interrogate the 5D models. Because if there is an error in the technology, it may only be detected by human curiosity. (In this age of cyber terrorism, such curiosity may even save lives.)

This is just one example of how technology will change jobs in property, infrastructure and energy, and there are many more. With Australia’s infrastructure boom set to continue in the coming decades, thriving careers are possible for professionals who retain an instinct to think for themselves and question the numbers. That’s the resounding message from the employers we speak to.

Additionally, hiring managers also tell us what qualities they want from professionals at specific stages of their careers. The following are some of the most common things we hear.

Senior professionals

Today’s senior professionals have a critical role to play in safeguarding the future of the property, infrastructure and energy industries. Typically, these people have highly developed levels of critical thinking because they previously worked in a time where there was less reliance upon technology. They also have a depth of technical knowledge and experience that nobody else can match.

As these professionals prepare to hand the baton to the next generation, it’s vital that they pass on their IP and their good habits too. This includes coaching and mentoring tomorrow’s leaders, encouraging them to think independently wherever possible.

Mid-career professionals

Many of the ‘middle management’ professionals we speak to have at least one eye on senior or executive-level roles already. Our advice to them is to pause and picture what the day-to-day existence of c-suite leaders involves. When you think about it, you realise that leaders spend more time dealing with people and making decisions than they do working in a technical specialism. Mid-career professionals should therefore focus on soft skills, such as negotiating and communicating, to equip them for more senior roles.

Here, I would also add a personal observation, and perhaps a suggestion. Many of the most successful executives we work with have championed causes for the betterment of their industry. The causes vary from diversity to sustainability to mental health but the common denominator is passion.

I recommend that middle managers think about an issue that resonates strongly for them personally, and then become active in addressing it. For example, a construction professional may look at the high prevalence of suicide among men in the sector and therefore champion a charity like MATES in Construction within their workplace. Simultaneously, they will be making a positive difference in their industry, developing their soft skills, and widening their professional network.

Young professionals

They say it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert, so my advice for young professionals is to focus upon learning as much as possible. Early-career roles in the property, infrastructure and energy sectors can vary enormously, but one of the qualities that just about every employer is seeking is a willingness to learn.

For people in the first decade of their career I recommend seeking out, and listening to, mentors who can share experience and guidance. I also recommend taking critical feedback in the spirit that it is intended – to help make you better at what you do.

Maintaining that ‘learning mindset’ early on will set young professionals up for a successful career in the longer term. To remain employable in the coming decades, all property, infrastructure and energy professionals should be constantly learning new things.

I would also add some advice for younger professionals who feel frustrated that they are not yet ‘making a difference’ in their organisations. Be patient. Your time will come.

Traditional career paths are going to look very different during your career. Developments such as the gig economy could open up amazing opportunities for you to work on projects that play to your strengths and give you a deep sense of purpose. Consider your early career as preparation for that. Right now, you can still take control of your career by focusing on your professional education and learning about the areas that interest you most.

Exciting times ahead

In the years to come, a lot is going to change in the fields of property, infrastructure and energy. I’m excited about the future and I think professionals should be too. Those who maintain and develop their professional curiosity have much to look forward to.

Contributed by: Jane Lowney is Associate Director, Engineering & Infrastructure at Robert Walters. She is a degree-qualified civil/structural engineer with industry and recruitment experience within the engineering sector. Passionate about diversity and inclusion in the engineering sector, Jane is an active participant in industry working groups and events to improve diversity and to encourage participation in STEM. She is also an active member of the Diversity In Infrastructure industry working group. In 2018 she was named Recruiter Of The Year in Australia’s RCSA Awards. Contact Jane via LinkedIn