Ingredients for success
Aleksandra Taskovic and Jonny Dawson share the qualities needed to build a career in international environmental and social practice.
IEMA members founded the Global Environmental and Social Assessment Group (GESA) in 2016 and launched it in May 2017, aiming to share good practice and develop capacity to improve the performance of international environmental and social management systems. With a focus on professional development within the international sector, GESA identified that young professionals (YPs) often face barriers gaining initial exposure to, and building a career in, international practice. In response, GESA established the YP working group, whose aim is to support early career professionals interested in this field.
It was important to understand the competencies and experiences needed to excel in international practice.
The GESA YP working group launched the development of an evidence base through interviews with leading practitioners, focusing on the career pathways and competencies needed for success.
Drive to succeed
The road into the international sector is not always straightforward, but most interviewees had built a strong academic foundation, with backgrounds in environmental studies and most holding a masters degree.
Where their careers started was not a major barrier for interviewees, who began their careers across affiliated industries (such as engineering), local government and consulting. We found that the structured career paths within these organisations helped hone technical skills and experiences. However, interviewees also attributed personal drive as key, alongside a little luck.
Enthusiasm and proactive opportunity-seeking were also common denominators. An example included learning new skills to become more marketable, highlighting the importance of building capabilities and being able to exploit a changing business environment.
Get skilled up
Strong technical skills are considered critical to success. These skills include understanding a wide array of environmental and social risk management concepts, and knowing how to apply internationally recognised benchmarks.
Language skills are also important; the ability to communicate in the local language with key stakeholders is a significant advantage. More important, however, are strong communication skills and soft behaviours, including empathy and collaboration. Conveying complex messages in simple terms and successfully working with people from diverse backgrounds, levels and cultures is essential in international work, as every project is distinct and diverse.
It’s also important to be flexible. In many cases, opportunities to gain experience in a particular country arise at the last minute or require long periods abroad, disrupting personal lives and plans. For many, seizing opportunities that others had declined provided the opening that propelled them onto the international scene.
Build your network
It is important to constantly work on yourself; you will be building and diversifying your skillsets throughout your career. Ensure early engagement and be observant for the next opportunity to learn. Shape your profile and engage; go to events and broaden your network. Such connections may become clients, employers or co-workers. Use every opportunity to learn and to demonstrate your capabilities. International work is rarely glamorous. It is likely to entail long, bumpy journeys, working in remote environments and harsh climates, solving complex issues and being away from family and friends. However, the rewards can be immense – you are able to travel the world, meet unique people and work on complex projects delivering progress toward sustainable development. The world is your oyster, so why not start today?
Aleksandra Taskovic is a social consultant at AECOM
Jonny Dawson PIEMA is an environmental consultant at WSP