The Water Sector recognised some years ago that it was ageing and that it needed fresh talent if it was going to solve the important challenges looming ahead. With this in mind, the International Water Association (IWA), the largest international network of water professionals with members in 130 countries, began to actively push for higher visibility and empowerment of Young Water Professionals (YWP). The UK YWP Chapter is one of the strongest in the world. Its annual conference is one of the largest gatherings of YWPs and is unique in the UK for offering a tailored conference for professionals emerging in the water industry. The conference, now in its 18th year, has been growing sustainably ever since its inception in 1999 and this year attracted a record of almost 200 participants to think about how to achieve the vision of “A Water World without Boundaries”. Organised by the University of Bath as part of its 50th anniversary festivities, together with partners such as Black & Veatch, Wessex Water, The Foundation for Water Research, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institution for Chemical Engineers (IChemE), it brought together speakers and participants from academia and industry, from the UK and abroad. The scientific and organising committee involved more than twenty early career and senior professionals to deliver a program packed with presentations, workshops, discussions, new ideas and opportunities for career development.
After a welcome speech by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost of the University of Bath, Professor Bernie Morley, and the chairs of the conference, Ana Lanham and Marta Coma, the tone for the conference was set by an inspiring series of short talks by senior and mid-career professionals from industry, consultancy and academia in a session entitled “My career in water”. Four workshops on breaking barriers in career development, unlocking the power of data in the water sector, the importance of cross-sectoral communication and ideas for better public engagement, all facilitated by professionals in the field together provided the opportunity to learn or develop new skills. Excellent keynote speakers delivered a wide perspective of the challenges the sector is facing from the importance of communication and social sciences across the water sector (Patricia Bakir, independent strategic planning and stakeholder engagement for water consultant, Jordan), to the imminent DNA revolution (Prof Per Nielsen, Aalborg University, Denmark) without forgetting the challenges to the sector and to the UK utilities (Hans Jensen, CEO UK’s water utilities research association (UKWIR)).
The interesting talks and discussions were seasoned by animated social events. At the drinks reception, in the charming atmosphere of the Victoria Art Gallery, the Mayor of Bath emphasized the importance of water and how it is embedded in the culture and the history of the city. The conference gala dinner, in the Guildhall, was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and £200 in favour of Water Aid, with participants experiencing a Virtual Reality immersion into their work in Zambia. The night was then animated by dancing to the sound of Jiggerty, a Bath based Ceilidh Band.
Marta Coma and Ana Lanham, the conference organisers were extremely pleased with the success of the conference and the fact that it attracted so many talented people from all places within the water sector. Not only this, but the conference helped to develop further the community of water people at the University of Bath: from students to senior management. Hopefully, the sum of the different experiences gathered during the conference will inspire its 200 Early-career Water Professionals to embrace better communication, improved self-awareness and a greater holistic understanding of the water challenges upon us to deliver “A Water World without Boundaries” for future generations.