Engineering and construction challenges in large infrastructure projects are becoming increasingly complex. In addition to growing demand for sustainable design and construction, modern engineering techniques require a more robust combination of education and training than previous generations. The engineering and construction sector needs more generalists who know both about technology and can incorporate a variety of disciplines in their work. Fortunately, many young people find today’s engineering challenges exciting, fun and incredibly fascinating. Jelmer, a recent member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), has found a way to harness their drive and share it with organisations looking to future-proof their operations. Pieter Dekker, Business Developer at Jelmer, says partnerships that incorporate young talent will accelerate transition and enhance collaboration within the sector.
‘Our primary goal is to develop the skills of the young leaders of the future. We want to connect generations and have them work together on shared goals, thereby connecting the sector from within.’
‘Established 13 years ago, Jelmer works to improve transparency and cross-sector collaboration by getting organisations to trust innovative and ambitious talent. The aim is to help stimulate promising ideas by enriching sectors with capable engineers, specialists and advisors who can see, understand, and influence the big picture. We challenge both individuals and organisations to expand their networks and transcend differences. The goal is to work together – to create a workspace where mistakes are a prerequisite for success and where innovation and progress are the foundation. In a nutshell: we strive to build a world where people transcend sector, age, and profession to better work together on initiatives that will shape the future and advance the world as a whole.
Known as ‘Jelmers’, these young professionals represent the future. They are eager and enthusiastic and have a lot of energy. They can achieve more because they are backed by a multi-company development programme and an independent organisation. They undergo a three-year period during which they learn from different work experiences at a contractor, government body and engineering firm. After this, they know where their added value can best be put into practice. Jelmers stand out from their peers because they have been specifically trained to bring overall value to the sector. Graduates benefit from a broad network consisting of employers, partners and alumni. Jelmer employees also receive training and opportunities for personal development through peer-to-peer learning. This helps them discover their strengths and weaknesses, learn how organisations work, how people think and how connections are formed. And ultimately, how to position themselves to see the change/impact they want to achieve.
There are always three main parties involved in water or infrastructure projects. These are: the government, who says we need to develop this bridge or that canal; the contractor, who says, yes but we need an engineering firm to work out the calculations; and the engineering firm that does the calculations and carries out the job. They all need to work together. Over a three-year period, we place our Jelmer candidates with partners in government, and engineering and construction firms to give them professional experience and help foster transparency in the sector. We also give our Jelmers a permanent contract during which they get to develop their skills in each of these different work environments.
Typically, we have seen that government bodies provide a longer career perspective for our candidates. It would be good if our private sector business partners shared this vision. Also, our business partners in the water sector need to commit to a shared vision for the long term. If you focus only on the short term, everything is rushed and you are not investing in the sector as a whole. We all need to commit to creating more meaningful relationships.
For the water sector in particular there are grand challenges that can only be overcome through collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking. Jelmers can be the pieces that help organisations solve these big puzzles.
NWP members can solve problems within their sector by drawing on the Jelmer Think Tank which combines the wisdom of experienced professionals with the instinct of young talent. This involves a multidisciplinary team diving into the issue during interactive sessions. Because our young professionals are not stuck in the daily patterns of the team, they offer fresh perspectives. Furthermore, they make the distinction between team aspirations and assumptions, and the project’s overarching goal. They can break through existing thought patterns and boundaries!
We have meaningful relationships with good business partners who are also in it for the long haul. Even though a couple of our Jelmers were laid off by their business partners because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were able to find new projects for them. We were able to keep everyone on board in our own organisation and even hired graduates because we believe in the business model and the long-term investment.
Young professionals with novel, innovative ideas and the ability to keep developing can permanently change the future of a sector. They are the key to progress and have the talent to make organisations agile and flexible. Jelmers excel in multiple stakeholder projects that are often multifaceted and require joined-up solutions. Our partners say that Jelmers are very energetic and think outside the box. This is because they have not yet been shaped to think or work in a particular way. This is most helpful to organisations looking for novel solutions.
We are investing 10 to 20 years into the future, creating a team of experienced, skilled and knowledgeable young professionals who will find the right place to make an impact and take on a leadership role. We have seen the results. Our Jelmers stand out. They believe in change!
There are currently 30 Jelmers in training, a supervisory team of six and 80 alumni spread throughout the industry, including NWP members. Once a Jelmer commits to an employer, they stay.’
Organisations where Jelmers are making a difference include Royal HaskoningDHV, Boskalis, Ingenieursbureau Amsterdam, GMB and Rijkswaterstaat. For more information (in Dutch) on Jelmers, see their website.
You can also get in touch with Pieter den Dekker, Business Developer on +31 (0)6 3636 1731 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.