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Fostering expertise in asset managers through continuing education

While investments in new and improved infrastructure continue to roll in from governments, it’s important we ensure our industry professionals are equipped to manage these assets long-term. Here, IPWEA CEO David Jenkins discusses why continued education is more important than ever and how asset managers can access the support they need to thrive.

Here at IPWEA, our primary focus is to support local government engineers, and asset managers working across local governments, corporate and private enterprise. We are all about fostering expertise in asset management, whether it’s roads, bridges or water assets; our aim is to look after the people who look after assets.

We have conducted some research specifically into water asset management and some of the issues that might be arising for our members in this area. In 2018, we found that around half of local councils with responsibility for water and wastewater services had an asset management plan to help prioritise the lifecycle of their assets.

Furthermore, in 2019, the Australian Infrastructure Audit found that the urban water sector faced significant challenges — including the impacts of climate change, population growth, ageing assets and changing needs — and that a failure to adequately address these challenges could lead to rising water bills, as well as community exposure to declining service quality and reliability.

One of the key things we promote at IPWEA is organisations having an asset management plan. Considering assets more broadly, if asset classes are not managed effectively, there’s a potential impact on health. And with water it’s no different — we are talking about the public health of the communities being served. We see this as a significant priority.

With local government engineers in many smaller or regional councils looking after all the asset classes, there is an additional need for continued training and upskilling of these professionals. IPWEA has been very vocal about the shortage of engineering professionals that are adequately skilled to manage these assets appropriately.

While there was already a skills shortage prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, buying in services has been significantly impacted in the past year. The prior shortage combined with the inability to tap into international expertise means that we really do need to focus on upskilling our workforces. The only way to do that is via education.

Creating pathways for success

Over the past 18 months, we have focused on a strategy of education and upskilling our members and community. We’ve developed an internationally regarded education program for asset managers — the IPWEA Asset Management Pathway — that aims to elevate the standard of expertise.

We are dedicated to advocating for continued education because importance should be placed not just on the building and development of assets, but on their long-term management. A huge amount of stimulus is coming through from governments to build infrastructure assets, which we welcome; however, it is also crucial to have a plan to manage those assets throughout their full lifecycle. This is where we place the importance of asset managers, who have the responsibility of maintaining these assets long term.

While asset managers often do come from an engineering background, this is not always the case, and asset management is a specific field of expertise that requires adequate training, capacity and knowledge. It is vital our asset managers are highly skilled professionals who will be able to manage assets more effectively and efficiently, which will result in a greater return on investment for us all.

IPWEA’s education strategy starts with our Foundations Program, which supports people who are just starting their career in asset management. But we have also designed an educational pathway for asset managers. This pathway is asset class agnostic: appropriate for any type of asset class.

We’ve updated our very successful Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning, which provides the insights needed to develop an asset management plan that links to long-term financial plans. We also now offer a Professional Certificate in Infrastructure Financial Management, which links finance and asset management, and also a capstone segment that looks at the governance and strategy issues affecting asset management.

These educational pathways are designed to be comprehensive. Completion of the Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning and the Integrating Asset Management and Governance course are deemed the equivalent to CAMA — Certified Asset Management Assessor — and with the required experience, can lead to the designation of Certified Practitioner in Asset Management through the World Partners in Asset Management. Currently, we have people across Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada undertaking these courses.

These courses are taking hold, and we have grown our student base of 300 to about 800 per year, nationally and internationally.

Supporting practical outcomes

One thing we’ve worked hard to ensure is that our upskilling pathways are also practical. There is absolutely a place for theory and didactic learning when it comes to asset management, but we want to make sure that what is learnt from our coursework can be applied directly within one’s workplace. We offer the theory, but we also show how to put that theory into practice.

The outcome of the assessment for the Certificate in Asset Management Planning is that the student produces an asset management plan for their organisation. There is benefit there for the student in learning about how to apply real data, but also the employer.

We have also focused on the people who do the teaching, making sure they are all highly experienced professionals who have been working in this field, either in corporate or commercial, or via consulting local governments. They have a lot of experience to call upon and we think that is so important — all that experience is invaluable in terms of passing expertise on to others.

We have made the whole program an asynchronous learning product people can fit this learning in around their work schedules. We have pre-recorded and live lectures and tutorials so students can access them at any time. It’s designed to be accessible for the types of professionals.

Effectively, we have aimed to create a series of micro-credentialing routes to help asset managers access the learning they need to thrive within their positions. One of the benefits of micro-credentialing is that there is no barrier to entry. Our micro credentials have a learning period of eight to nine weeks. This allows professionals to upskill very quickly, when and where needed.

Micro-credentialing suits the asset management space very well and it is crucial for IPWEA to be supporting our managers in making sure they have the skills they need to maintain these assets.

Looking to the future, I see micro-credentialing having a big role to play in supporting asset managers as industries shift and change, particularly in regards to digitisation. Our asset managers are all being impacted by changing technologies; we need to do something to help our members understand what this means for their profession.

In the next few weeks, we will be launching a micro-credential in asset tracking and monitoring. While asset monitoring has been around for a while, it’s becoming more and more prevalent within the water sector. However, there is lots of new information that our asset managers need to transition successfully, and so we have developed a credential to help guide our managers through.

And that’s another benefit of continued learning through practically focused micro-credentialing — it allows us to help our asset managers learn and grow along with the key changes occurring in our societies and our industries. It’s so important that we support our asset professionals with this task; the health of our communities depends on it.