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Digital, work life balance, and sustainability

Posted by 4MAT Administrator
Posting date:12/4/2020 3:32 PM
This year’s global pandemic has had a huge impact on the Infrastructure sector, and has fast forwarded the importance of digital, work life balance, and sustainability. Our Face of the Future, Jia Afsar, says how these are changing the face of the industry.

What is your role and what does it entail?

I’m an Architectural Assistant (Designer), and this role entails an understanding of design that satisfies aesthetic and technical requirements, knowledge of the arts and the wider industries, urban design, construction, planning and the relationship between people, their buildings and the impact on the wider environment.

Was there a definitive moment that steered you towards a career in infrastructure? 

My career in infrastructure is closely associated to, and shaped by, my experiences. 

As someone who was fortunate enough to travel and live in countries around the world from a young age, my environment was continuously changing which helped to gain a unique global perspective. I found myself mentored through my exposure to different cultures, mindsets and variation in the surrounding infrastructure. These factors defined my understanding of design. As a result, there was no definitive moment, just a constant awareness of the meaning and impact of design on people’s lives and therefore my purpose. 

Why do you think it’s important to work and learn about it? 

Infrastructure helps facilitate our lives; without it the modern human would not be able to function. In order to have the vision that responds to the ever-changing needs of people, it is incredibly important to understand that learning about infrastructure is learning about ourselves as humans. 

Who has inspired you in your studies and starting your career?

My biggest inspiration will always be my parents as without their open minds and inquisitive nature, I would not be who I am today – personally and professionally. Within architecture, Zaha Hadid helped provide an example of the extent of what women from minority backgrounds can achieve in the field and sadly, how much harder they must try. While never her intention, the effects of seeing representation in the highest form of the profession is extremely important and a lesson of dreaming big that I carry with me to this day:

“Your success will not be determined by your gender or your ethnicity but only by the scope of your dreams.”

What are you finding the most interesting; challenging; rewarding so far?

For me the impact a global pandemic has had on the industry of Infrastructure has been the most interesting (and difficult due to the loss of life). It has fast forwarded the importance of digital, work life balance, sustainability which as a result has positively changed the face of the industry. The most challenging and therefore the most rewarding is designing. The current industry has established ways of working, procurement routes, frameworks that can overlook the voice of the people: end users, communities, clients. However, with the Well-Being of Future Generations Act (Wales) and the potential of data in understanding human centred design, the future is inclusive and exciting.

How do you think we can educate and encourage younger generations about this work? What methods do you think work best? 

This question is close to my heart. As a recent winner *Highly Commended in STEM Woman of the Year Wales Award” and winner of the “Constructing Excellence Wales Generation for Change Award*, I strongly believe in effectively educating the next generation. This goes beyond schools and universities and includes the community and the industry.

Some interesting ways to do this could be to generate a circular approach:

  1. Build strategic partnerships with schools, universities, local charities, museums, vocational colleges to educate not just students but parents and teachers about the industry and help clarify the perception of working in a construction industry;
  2. Create long term relationships with the institutions to share informed employer intelligence, information on local jobs and capture these discussions within the curriculum;
  3. Increase focus on apprenticeships, vocational training for the skillsets of the future – not a task-based approach to delivery but a purpose led style of industry placement; 
  4. Within the business, diversify the hiring pool to include those who did not have the opportunity or self-belief to go to a private school, University etc;
  5. Re-think the definition of ‘productivity’ as a measure of value in the business – invest in training at a 50:50 rate and generate trust based working values.

What would (or even do) you personally say to younger people interested in the sector? 

  • Open your mind and be humble
  • Have a purpose & think about your responsibility to the world and its people.
  • Voice your opinion, and fight for your rights - yes you have them, and will have to fight for them
  • Challenge your seniors to do better – reverse mentoring is key
  • Spend time to understand what you want from your job
  • Understand others – learn empathy
  • Align yourself with people you respect
  • Share your knowledge transparently and ask questions freely without concern of being judged
  • When you lose hope, look to the future and create it.
 
How do you feel about being a part of future-focused work?

This industry is bursting at the seams of its previous existence. Enhancements in digital, sustainability and inclusivity in society are key catalysts in ripping it apart. I feel exhilarated to not only be a part of its future, through my external role in the Generation of Change (CEW) and Chair of the Employee Engagement Forum in Atkins, but also instrumental in its shaping.

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