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Young professional groups are gaining momentum

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by Shannon Moneo last update:Jul 19, 2014

To build bridges within their industries, junior members of construction and engineering companies are joining distinct groups that provide networking, education and even volunteering opportunities.
The U40 group has volunteered its time to help with chores, yardwork and construction at the Zajac Ranch for Children in Mission, B.C
The U40 group has volunteered its time to help with chores, yardwork and construction at the Zajac Ranch for Children in Mission, B.C - Photo: Bradley Fehr

To build bridges within their industries, junior members of construction and engineering companies are joining distinct groups that provide networking, education and even volunteering opportunities.

The rise of U40 (under age 40) or Young Professionals' Groups has been bolstered by the prediction that as vast numbers of senior staff soon retire, the young bloods will have to step in.

Ensuring they're prepared is crucial.

"These groups provide a huge opportunity to engage Generation Y and the youth that follow in the construction industry," said the Vancouver Regional Construction Association president Fiona Famulak.

U40 groups assist mentoring, which in turn helps form solid career paths, with the end result being that succession plans are well-executed, she said.

Around 2008, the VRCA launched a U35 Network, but later upped the ante and renamed it the U40 Network, said Fraser McIntosh, a project manager at Bird Construction and chair of the U40 Network in 2012.

The group got its start when construction association members from Toronto attended a Vancouver luncheon.

"The groups are strong in Ontario," McIntosh said.

The Torontonian U40s assisted in the formation of the VRCA U40 Network.

"A group like this is important because when you enter construction, you don't know everyone so you look to those who've been around. They have a network that they can call up. It makes their days easier," McIntosh said.

The U40 group is a way to fast-track networking and help put names to faces.

While the group targets those under 40, it doesn't discriminate.

U40-organized events are open to all VRCA members, McIntosh said.

The group holds monthly events ranging from go-carting and boat cruises to golf tourneys and casino nights, the venues serving as networking opportunities.

Mentoring breakfasts are where industry leaders speak casually about their experiences and recount the, "I was where you were 15 years ago," perspective, McIntosh said.

The VRCA U40 group has also embraced volunteer work/fundraising.

Its latest beneficiary is the Zajac Ranch for sick children, where members take on a slew of improvement projects around the ranch.

Turnout for U40 events ranges from about 30 for a pub night to 70 for volunteer work crews to 250 for a boat cruise.

Strong ties with BCIT serve as a farm team of sorts for the VRCA group.

Across the water, the Vancouver Island Construction Association formed its U40 Group in 2010 at the urging of VICA's board, said Daniel Behrens, the U40 chair and a project manager with Knappett Projects.

Like the VRCA's group, networking is important.

"Younger people are interested in becoming leaders. We want to learn and make a difference in the companies," Behrens said.

"Boards are dominated by the older generation. This is a way for us to be heard and to make inroads. Right now, it's especially important."

He cited a gap between those in their 50s and 60s versus those in their 30s and 40s.

VICA's U40 group alternates monthly social events with its Speakers Series, where industry leaders provide mentorship and advice on topics such as contract law or builders' liens.

Event attendances range from about 30 to 75.

An important aspect for the group is "giving back to the community," Behrens said.

In 2011, the group did $60,000 worth of renovation work for the Garth Homer Society.

In 2012-13, $130,000 worth of work was done at the Gorge Waterway Nature House.

And in 2014, $10,000 was raised via a casino night for the Dandelion Society.

One challenge for VICA's U40s is attracting U40 tradespeople, who are a huge part of the industry, Behrens said.

The group is also trying to start a North Island U40 group, but logistics related to the large area are proving challenging.

The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-B.C. have their Young Professionals' Group (YPG), established in B.C. in 2006.

Every province also has YPG chapters.

B.C.'s provincial chapter sets the overall strategy for satellite groups in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Kelowna and Kamloops, said Charlie Yao, provincial chair and an electrical engineer for the MMM Group.

While the ACEC's YPG doesn't require proof of age, it uses a guideline of up to and including 10 years of experience within the consulting engineering industry, Yao said.

"We're really trying to develop a way for young professionals to network and have the ability to get feedback from the senior membership," he said.

Professional development is also important. Yao noted that engineers are highly-trained in their fields, but need supplemental training in administrative areas such as wage and contract law, liability matters and project management. The ACEC YPG is a conduit for bringing specialists in those fields to YPG seminars, he said.

Cognizant that engineers don't have a strong public profile, B.C.'s ACEC YPG has formed a task force to stoke community participation among its members and make the public aware that engineers play a vital role in society, Yao said.

For McIntosh, having VRCA's U40 group makes work more fun.

"It's great knowing other people in the industry," he said.

"You can bounce questions off them, work with trades and suppliers who you know."

last update:Jul 19, 2014

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