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Queensland's Young Water Professional of the Year wants to make a difference

In the lead up to Ozwater’19 and the announcement of the Young Water Professional of the Year, the Australian Water Association (AWA)’s Queensland Branch sat down with the 2018 Queensland Young Water Professional of the Year, William Speirs.

William Speirs is a Bid Manager in the Advanced Solutions team at Queensland Urban Utilities in Brisbane. With a background in engineering, economics and organisation strategy, he has a keen interest in exploring new technologies and business models that can help utilities turn future disruptions to their advantage.

What drew you to the water industry?

I feel like I grew up alongside it! Starting out as a farming kid, first in Gippsland and then in the Northern Territory, water was always a constant conversation topic and I naturally gravitated towards it in my engineering studies and career.

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

I draw a lot of what I do from social enterprises and B-corporations, in particular how they start small with a simple idea to make a positive difference, and scale up to national and multinational enterprises, always maintaining a profit-with-purpose approach. It is potentially a good model for water utilities, and some like Welsh Water are already doing it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

William Speirs speaking at QWater'18.

When not out and about with my significant other: computer games. My favourite game at the moment is ‘Factorio’, which is about creating a large and complicated assembly line to mine, distribute refine and process resources into products. Think a ‘fun’ version of Infoworks or WaterGEMs.

If you were a breed of dog, which would you be and why?

A husky. I love the cold and snow, and need work to occupy my mind to stop me from destroying the house and backyard.

What do you believe is currently the greatest challenge for your part of the water industry?

We don’t know what disruption looks like until it hits us, and when it does, our best chance of continuity is to have options. Investing in options, in redundancy and resilience often conflicts with ‘prudency and efficiency’; we need our decisions to focus on maximising our chances of success rather than being ‘perfect’.

How does your organisation benefit from being a corporate member of the Australian Water Association?

The challenges we face are not unique, and being part of the Association means we are never alone in finding the solutions. The collegiate atmosphere and open sharing of knowledge and experiences between members is an invaluable source of expertise.

What messages would you like to give to your colleagues in the Queensland water sector?

Simply to have conversations. Water is the ultimate social good and requires an understanding about its wider contribution to health, wellbeing, amenity and lifestyle. Building this understanding requires talking with people, customers, employees, community groups, your neighbours…even politicians.

This article appeared in the April 2019 edition of Queensland Source.