A network to help businesses make real progress

Making the most of young talent is crucial to any business. Anil Iyer discusses the value to consultancy and engineering businesses of the leading industry group for emerging professionals in the natural and built environment.

One of the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of my job is the ability to harness the energy that millennials working in the natural and built environment bring to the industry and nurture it through the activities of the Progress Network, ACE’s group for emerging professionals.  

This vibrant body enables early career professionals to develop business and industry skills that prepare them as future leaders. We currently have seven Progress Network groups throughout UK and even one in the Middle East, all run by some of the best rising stars of the industry. The groups include members from small SME’s right up to the large consultancies, who even though they have their in-house emerging professional groups, recognise the value of a cross-business industry group.

Over recent years the various sub-groups of Progress Network throughout the UK have run panel debates on topics that directly affect our industry such as infrastructure investment, the impact of HS2, Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and London housing and people issues such as unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion and the impact of post-Brexit EU migration. One group contributed to policy formation in Wales and other groups regularly contribute to roundtables attended by senior industry leaders on subjects such as technology. 

In 2017, Progress Network launched a reverse mentoring pilot initiative which has been well received; the experiences and feedback from this pilot will be rolled out to the industry in mid-2018 as a best practice framework to promote business resilience that can be used by small and large businesses alike.

The culture of collaboration and the vast array of communication options has undoubtedly broken down barriers and those attending Progress Network events engage in free and open discussion away from their work environment, which particularly helps them learn from and absorb best business practices from different organisations. 

It is known that employers nowadays hire not just for technical or project management experience, but place an increasing emphasis on the individual’s business judgement, which is best developed through networking events.

Whilst some Progress Network groups are thriving, others are still evolving. The individuals from the more successful groups are undoubtedly the ones that benefit from the strongest support from the leaders of their organisations. However, whilst in virtually all cases, that support comes from the top - after all, what CEO will say they don’t value their rising stars - the level of support often withers at business unit level where the focus moves from the overall vision and values of the corporate organisation to maximisation of fee-earning work. 

Utilisation is after all the number one KPI for the business unit; it is tangible, and is easy to calculate. But the challenge lies where utilisation becomes the sole metric, with talent and potential often overlooked, which we all know can result in demotivation and ultimately attrition.

Industry awareness and its relevance to a business in the natural and built environment seems to still be perceived as an ‘extra-curricular’ activity at business-unit level.  It’s a ‘nice to have’ as long as it doesn’t get in the way of utilisation.  Yes, of course everyone is granted a number of days a year to go off for training and development and those seeking to achieve chartered status maintain meticulous records of their CPD courses and activities.  And while the number of CPD days is obviously measurable and seen as a benefit to the individual, I would question whether the value to the business and more specifically the business unit, is being fully appreciated.

The Progress Network model whereby all events are held after work and the majority of events are sponsored, is an enduring cocktail mix of valuable industry learning, development of management and leadership skills, all in a business networking, yet relaxed environment. I would appeal to all organisations to embrace, if they haven’t already done so, the Progress Network model and actively encourage their early career professionals to participate in their local Progress Network groups. 

Firms could also do a lot worse than seriously considering developing a metric in addition to utilisation, that recognises the value to their business of emerging professionals’ participation in this worthwhile endeavour.

To find out more about Progress Network contact Anil Iyer, chief operating officer at ACE at aiyer@acenet.co.uk or phone 020 7222 6557.