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Our emerging water leaders need to solve problems and sell ideas

As emerging water leaders, young water professionals (YWPs) need to evolve their capabilities and consider whether to revolutionise their careers, writes Michael Webber.

With the theme of Evolution Revolution, the aim of Ozwater’18 was to inspire water professionals to advance the capability of the water sector and the way we work.

An observation out of the Emerging Leader’s Forum at Ozwater’18, which focused on cost versus value, was that our young water professionals need to better understand the necessity of selling.

The program

YWPs are being encouraged to recognise themselves as the future leaders of the Australian water industry. The Ozwater’18 Emerging Leaders experience provided access to a full day of value that focused on the growing challenge of appreciating the cost of water services versus their value as essential building blocks of life and a lever for prosperity.

The first session was facilitated by Alex Paton, Marketing and Business Development Leader, Buildings and InfrastructureAsia Pacific at Jacobs, with talks covering cost versus value on the international, national and local scale from:

  • Simon Tilleard, Program Manager, Australian Water Partnership
  • Dr Briony Rogers, Project Leader, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities
  • Richard Petterson, Executive Leader Operations and Service Delivery, Queensland Urban Utilities

Tackling big challenges

Next up was a workshop where attendees heard about situations in which the cost of solving water industry issues might not match the end users’ perceived value of the water. The speakers included:

  • Peter Nicol, Global Vice President, Water, Jacobs who spoke about Jacobs’ role in providing innovative solutions to its clients, particularly in the way that water reuse is communicated as a value proposition.
  • Rosie Wheen, CEO, WaterAid who spoke about water value versus cost in unprivileged communities, particularly in Australia’s close neighbour Timor Leste.
  • Cail Rayment, Acting Manager Demand Management, Regions and Remote, Power and Water Corporation who spoke about the challenges of providing sustainable water solutions in remote Northern Territory communities.

Attendees work together to find solutions to water industry challenges Attendees worked together to find solutions to water industry challenges.

Attendees were grouped and tasked with solving one of three scenarios in 30 minutes. The three workshop scenarios were developed based on real situations, including:

The winner

It was exciting to see the attendees focus their knowledge and expertise on finding a solution to each problem. The solutions varied considerably and the groups did a fantastic job selling their solutions to a panel of judges, including theoretical physicist and hopeful Martian Dr Adriana Marais, Wheen, Tilleard and Petterson, who posed as key stakeholders.

Dr Adriana Marais, Richard Petterson, Simon Tilleard and Rosie Wheen Dr Adriana Marais, Richard Petterson, Simon Tilleard and Rosie Wheen.

The judges took their time in deciding a winner, reflecting the high-quality work that was put in over such a short amount of time and the importance of being able to sell an idea.

The winner was a group tackling the remote community demand management scenario. The team stood out for its approach of gaining buy-in from the traditional owners of the land, understanding traditional connections to water, and working closely with the community to protect that connection. It was thought that more efficient water use could allow for existing, limited water sources to be adequate in the scenario.

The elevator pitch

Some attendees had never completed an elevator pitch, or even knew what was involved in pitching an idea. The ability to sell an idea is an underrated skill but helps us be the best employee we can for our employers.

Aidan Symons from SMEC gives an elevator pitch Aidan Symons from SMEC gives an elevator pitch.

More importantly for a YWP's own career progression, if we’re going for a new position or a promotion we need to sell ourselves.

It could be argued that completing a sales pitch is a skill we’re born with, or at least develop in the early years of our lives. Think of a small child pleading with Mum or Dad to buy the toy they just saw in the shops.

As soon as the parent asks why they should buy the item the child needs to pitch the idea, often unsuccessfully (and we all hear that end in tears in the supermarket).

This is selling. It’s a cost versus value argument, and it’s not too big a jump from this situation to the professional sales pitch of our later years, but with more structure and experience.

It's here that we found a gap in the skills of some of our emerging leaders: the ability to pitch ideas.

In an environment where customers expect more and more from their service providers, we need to be able to respond in a cost-effective way. YWPs therefore need to develop their skills to sell the value they add to their employers.

With this in mind, why not put your pitching skills to the test and encourage your employer to send you to the Young Water Professionals Program at Ozwater’19. To find out about the program and to register, click here.