Kat Hanna, Director of Strategic Advisory and Special Projects at Avison Young and Chair of the NLA NextGen Committee summarises the first convening of the Committee.
Last Wednesday saw the first meeting of the newly formed Next Gen Committee.
We began by setting out the twin focuses of the committee; the internal – that is, what is happening in the sector, and how younger colleagues can be supported through their careers, and the external – what is happening in London and beyond, and the aspirations that younger Londoners have for the capital.
As a means of getting to know members, we began with introductions from attendees, including a project that they particularly enjoyed or are proud of. Accomplishments ranged from co-designing with residents in South East London, the completion of an engineering campus, and the overseeing the relocation of a small Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral. The range of responses reflects both the breadth of expertise and experience around the table, and the importance of next gen colleagues developing an understanding of the full spectrum of the sector, and the number of roles that fall within ‘the built environment’. Attendees highlighted that this an important role that the NLA committee can play.
The first half the agenda focused on perceived challenges and opportunities for Next Gen colleagues, whether at individual, company or sector level. Unsurprisingly given that many of us are still negotiating the world of hybrid working, members raised the need to balance the flexibility that hybrid working can offer with the value of in-person learning. This includes both being on site, and formal and informal professional development, building relationships with peers, managers, and developing confidence in engaging with colleagues and clients. The ability to learn from colleagues is not just about sharing the same physical space – some members expressed concern that a focus on efficiencies (particularly in a challenging economic climate) meant a downgrading of the importance of developing talent, risking the creation of ‘lost cohort’, not dissimilar to what was seen in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.
When it came to what types of support and initiatives were useful for those either at the beginning of their career or aspiring to leadership, many members shared a positive view of networking and mentoring. This includes building ties with people at varying levels of seniority, and a level of visibility of young, diverse individuals in leadership roles. Too often is diversity evident at more junior levels and lacking at board level, and despite this, seen as an issue for Next Gen to focus on rather than those in more senior positions.
The second half of the agenda saw members look beyond their careers and sector to consider the challenges and opportunities facing the capital. This discussion is one means by which the Next Gen committee will be inputting into the New London Agenda, setting out a vision for the future of London and means by which to accelerate improvements. Many attendees were positive about the opportunities that London affords young professionals in the build environment, in terms of the variety of work on offer, proximity to policy-making and pace of change. Unsurprisingly, housing was cited as a challenge, particularly in terms of the ability of London to continue to attract and retain diverse and dynamic communities and individuals. London and its rental market may just about be tolerable when sharing accommodation, but is increasingly seen as an untenable option for those wanting to settle down. The mention of housing led to a lively discussion about the roles of planning, policy, and politics, with it being clear that an understanding of how politics shapes policy, particularly housing delivery, being noted as an important for built environment professionals. Sustainability was also raised by a number of members, though often framed as an opportunity for innovation and area where London should lead.
As you can see from the above, this first meeting was lively, positive, and resulted in a number of practical next steps for NLA and the wider committee, particularly in terms of learning and development. And while discussion was framed around internal and external challenges and opportunities, it became clear that a liveable London is fundamental to supporting and developing the next generation of built environment professionals, and that in turn, that a diverse and engaged sector is key to securing London’s long term success.
NLA's NextGen Programme is supported by Gardiner & Theobald