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Building Connections: Youth as Catalysts for Global Water Corporation

2023 Australian Young Water Professional of the Year Chelsea Hayward delighted attendees on the first day of the inaugural Connected by Water conference with a young professional focused keynote session on the importance of intergenerational collaboration. 

"Who identifies as a young water professional?"
"Who identifies as young at heart?"
"Who identifies as a senior water professional?"

These were the three questions posed to delegates by keynote speaker Chelsea Hayward (Jacobs) eliciting laughter from the audience.

What does it mean to be a young professional? What is the journey? As the Young Water Professional of the Year for 2023, Chelsea delivered a call to action for all delegates to get involved with young professionals and build up their skills.

“For those who are young professionals in 2024, we have grown up with internet technology for a majority of our life and it can be overwhelming when every message delivered to us has a point of urgency. We can’t take action as children/teenagers but we can now as young professionals with a foot in the door.” - Chelsea Hayward.

Chelsea pointed out that despite the unfair and incorrect generalisation that young people are 'lazy' and 'unmotivated' compared to their previous generations, young people have the potential to drive real change. But the feeling amongst young people is that they're sitting on the sidelines waiting for opportunities and when these do occur, it's often scarce.

What can be done?

Chelsea outlined the several barriers that currently hinder young professionals including:

  • Limited access to funding;
  • Lack of trust;
  • No space for young professionals;
  • We need more than capacity building; and
  • Young professionals need to be brought on board to be part of the decision making process.

Chelsea reiterated that while intergenerational collaboration in the water sector will start bridging the gap, it's on senior water professionals to create these spaces where diversity of thought is valued. By bringing young professionals on board, this fosters a sense of ownership and inclusivity.

Intergenerational collaboration sets up successful planning for the long term future. By adopting a holistic approach to water management, we can safeguard our water resources for future generations to enjoy. Young professionals need to be given meaningful opportunities for this to be a success.

Beyond the scope

It’s time to go outside the Australian water sector and look at broader fields both worldwide and cross-industry including engineering, environment and more. Water collaboration across sectors and borders will be a huge benefit for future planning and Chelsea stressed that water issues, in fact, transcend national boundaries. Young people are becoming more connected to the world and this unique experience for the younger generation can be a huge benefit.

There are many international organisations and associations that have a strong focus on including young people in their water matters, decision making and events. e.g. in 2023, the International Water Association (IWA) funded 14 young professionals to attend the UN Climate Conference. They were given a seat at the table. Chelsea Hayward was one of those young professionals and for her the opportunity was immense and a terrific learning opportunity.

IWA Chelsea

Young professionals can lead the community in water education, building awareness and inspiring the next generation so what are water companies doing to advance intergenerational collaboration?

From Sydney Water to Urban Utilities, there are numerous programs and initiatives to position water education to the youth of today, creating a knowledge exchange that's beneficial for both parties.

Practical collaboration

What should young professionals do?

  1. Stay informed and engaged
  2. Challenge the status quo
  3. Look beyond the sector

What should senior professionals do?

  1. Support capacity building
  2. Make some room
  3. Embrace new perspectives

Intergenerational collaboration requires trust from both sides. Diversity of thought is vital for finding innovative solutions. Let's empower young professionals to become the influential leaders of today and tomorrow.

"Whether you're a young professional or young at heart, we can all do better to foster better professional relationships and upskill young professionals." - Chelsea Hayward.

Find out more on the inaugural Connected by Water conference including photo galleries and recaps.