George Bowman, Director of Asset BowManagement Ltd, has had a passion for rivers from an early age. He’s been lucky to transform this into two university degrees, and a successful professional career as a Flood Risk Engineer in Aotearoa New Zealand. At work, his drive and motivation stem from desire to protect both people, and our environment, from the adverse effects of flooding.
He sat down with us to share his journey to where he is today, as well as some of his thoughts for the asset management and flood risk management industries going forward.
Immigrating to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2017, I started my NZ career working for Greater Wellington Regional Council in the Flood Protection department. It quickly became obvious that river practitioners were in very short supply, but in even higher demand.
After numerous taps on the shoulder, and with a personal mission to help reduce and manage the risk of flooding across New Zealand, I saw an opportunity to provide support across a large number of organisations. In April 2019 I started Asset BowManagement Ltd, to offer a range of flood risk asset management services across Aotearoa New Zealand.
Since Asset BowManagement first started, I’ve had the chance to travel from Kaitaia and Gisborne, to Southland and Queenstown to provide flood risk management support and advice to clients.
Whilst also running Asset BowManagement, I’ve enjoyed volunteering my time working with IPWEA NZ and feel particularly committed to raising the profile of the organisation and supporting its growth. In September 2021, I was nominated and voted onto the IPWEA NZ Board.
Countering the public works skills shortage, particularly in engineering and asset management, is a key focus area for me, and through working with younger students and kids in schools, I hope that I can have a positive influence, inspiring our next generation of engineers and asset management professionals.
Another key focus area is to raise the profile of flood protection and river management. There’s room to create strong relationships between IPWEA NZ and this sector and
I will continue to advocate for providing more sector-specific training where there is currently gaps, as well as encouraging more tamariki to become river practitioners.
Something which has stuck with me over the last few years is Ross Waugh’s presentation at the 2019 IPWEA NZ conference. Ross presented some sobering stats on the engineering and asset management skills shortage: you can read more here.
“In 15 years, 1 out of every 2 public works professionals for provincial authorities will be at retirement age – by 2025 New Zealand will have a shortage of 14,000 engineers.”
If you work for a Regional Authority or District Council, that’s 50% of your team. Imagine if one day you walked into your office, and half of your team were no longer there. With legislative and policy changes, upcoming reforms, and the obvious effects of climate change, flood risk managers and river engineers are going to be very busy.
So aside from delaying retirement, providing apprenticeships, and relying on immigration (all of which are important), it’s imperative that we:
- Encourage more children and students to explore careers in STEM with emphasis on the importance of public works and asset management;
- Invest in the current workforce to improve capability; and
- Attract professionals from other disciplines.
There is plenty of great work being done in this space by various organisations implementing initiatives to combat the skills shortage, but it is vital each and every public works organisation in Aotearoa takes ownership of the issue. Furthermore, as individuals, we also have a responsibility to counter the skills shortage. What can you do to help?
Inspiring the next generation
As an ambassador for Engineering New Zealand (ENZ) in their Wonder Project initiative, I spent 8 weeks working with the 6-8 year olds of Newlands Primary School in Wellington to help build water rockets. Something which inspired me is that in 10-15 years, these children could be graduates starting out in their engineering and asset management careers, replacing those professionals who are ready to retire. There is so much potential in these kids – they need role models, people who they can look up to and who will make engineering exciting. If they enjoy it and have fun, this could be the start of their STEM passion – it really could be as simple as that. It’s certainly a real advantage if you can help them to blast a rocket 40 metres into the air!
There are over 50,000 people working in local government in Aotearoa. Imagine if each one of us convinced just one child or student to think about pursuing a career in STEM or public works, or even better in my biased opinion, to become a river practitioner. Such a simple act, collectively, can make significant change.
But it’s not just about converting our tamariki into public works professionals, it’s also about training and retaining existing employees, whilst also attracting professionals from other disciplines.
It’s this thought which encouraged me to reach out to IPWEA NZ – there was a real need for some online flood risk asset management training, and digital badges seemed like the perfect opportunity to provide bite-sized learning to lots of people, particularly given recent circumstances.
Growing Flood risk management capability
As we’ve seen recently on the West Coast, flooding is one of the most common natural hazards we all face in Aotearoa New Zealand. Flood risk management assets play a vital role in protecting people, property and the environment from the adverse effects of flooding. It is essential, then, to ensure best practice management of these assets.
In October 2021, I embarked upon a collaboration with the team at IPWEA NZ to plan, design and develop a series of online flood risk asset management courses. The courses are tiered starting with an introductory course and progressing through to four advanced courses.
I hope that these courses will encourage existing river practitioners to take their careers to the next level, while attracting students, graduates and other professionals into the world of flood risk management.
We’ve got a long way to go and a significant amount of mahi to progress to counter the engineering skills shortage, but I hope these online courses take one step towards that.