Water Utilities

       Water is an exciting sector replete with employment opportunities. New and emerging challenges in the water sector, such as growing urban population and climate change effects, are creating career opportunities for water professionals with a wide spectrum of employers.

As we explained in our “Tips for freshers” post, water professionals can work at various organisations, from consulting firms and water utilities to cooperation agencies, NGOs and research institutions. With the aim of learning more about these organisations, we are starting our series of one-on-one interviews with global water industry professionals, Conversations with Water Pros.

In this first edition, we wanted to explore the world of water utilities, so we interviewed Tiago Ribeiro, former director of AdP Timor-Leste, a subsidiary of the Group AdP - Aguas de Portugal. We asked Tiago Ribeiro about this international water utility and his experience in it. Let’s see what advices he shared with us!
You have dedicated your life to water, having managed water supply and wastewater projects during more than a decade. How did you first become interested in this sector?

My interest in the water sector came naturally. From an early age I was passionate about activities involving water, in particular sports, such as surfing, snowboarding and diving.

Later, during my Environmental Engineering degree, I realized that the disciplines that motivated me most were always those which were somehow related to water, such as Water Treatment Processes, Water Resources Management and Coastal Processes.

When I finished my degree, the water and sanitation sector was booming in Portugal and I had the opportunity to do an internship in the group Águas de Portugal, where I am today.

Almost all your professional career has been developed within this group. What can you tell us about this company and what were your different roles in it?

The group Águas de Portugal is a public state owned group operating in the environmental area, created in 1993, whose principal aim was the development of the water and sanitation sector in Portugal. Today, the group aggregates several regional companies that provide water services to approximately 80% of the Portuguese population.

The group Águas de Portugal integrates an international business unit, where I currently develop my professional activity, whose mission is to conduct the business of the group outside Portugal, acting as a showcase of the group's capacities and skills, leveraging the internationalization of group operations and promoting partnerships with other Portuguese players in the sector.
I would say that my career path in the group Águas de Portugal is not the most common, since most people tend to specialize in one area (e.g. operation & maintenance, procurement, etc.). In my case, I have always been receptive to embracing projects in different departments and companies within the group, and even in different geographical, national and international contexts, which has allowed me to get a cross-sectional view of the operation of a water utility company.

You were Director of AdP Timor-Leste, a subsidiary of the Group AdP operating in this Asian country. How did you become involved with AdP Timor-Leste initially?

When I finished my MBA at Cranfield University I had my priorities clearly defined: to proceed my international career in the water sector, through a project where I could put into practice simultaneously my water sector expertise and the business knowledge I had acquired during the MBA.

Having expressed this will within the group Águas de Portugal, the invitation to reactivate the group's operations in Timor-Leste arose. A challenge that I accepted with great enthusiasm, being aware of the country’s many needs still to be addressed in this sector.

And after one year managing AdP Timor-Leste, what impact do you think that your company has had on the country’s water and sanitation services?

The AdP Timor-Leste intervention took place in the context of a technical assistance project to the National Sanitation Directorate for the implementation of a Sanitation and Drainage Master Plan in the capital of Timor-Leste.

The mission of AdP Timor-Leste in this project, for which I successfully endeavored, primarily consisted of supporting the main stakeholders in the water sector in the country. This was sustained by the extensive know-how of the group Águas de Portugal in design, construction and management of water and sanitation systems.

In these projects, it is essential that alongside a strong political will and the availability of necessary financial resources, that you consolidate the technical capacity of the local staff, providing them with the necessary skills to operate and maintain the water and sanitation infrastructures beyond the life-span of the project.

As the director of AdP Timor-Leste, what kind of people did you want to be working at your company?

This is a fundamentally important question because in the water sector projects are complex and normally implementation takes several years. It is therefore essential, regardless of where we are working, to invest in human resources that are technically qualified, motivated and resilient.

At a more junior level, I look for people with a strong academic background, preferably with some specific knowledge of the sector, such as a master´s degree in Water Management.

At the most senior level, I think it is a great asset to any project to have multidisciplinary teams that put together people with many years of experience in the water sector and people with a completely different professional background.

Given your lengthy involvement in the water industry, what three elements do you consider essential for advancing in this sector?

Since this is a sector with many specificities, I would like to highlight the importance of having a broad view of the sector. It is essential to know in which direction the sector is heading, so you can always be up-to-date in terms of your skills.

Then, on a more individual level, it is essential for you to know where you want to go within the sector. Whether you want to become an expert in a certain area or would you prefer a more general knowledge, since this will influence important decisions throughout your career.
Finally, and I think this is common to all sectors, be passionate about what you are doing.

What advice would you give to graduates wanting to build a career in a water company?

For a recent graduate who wants to get into the water sector, I would like to highlight 2 points:

First, you should increase your knowledge of the sector and with this information figure out what you would like to do and where, since there are many paths you can follow. For example, if you choose to work in a developed country, you may find more opportunities in terms of operation and maintenance of infrastructures, where asset management and non-revenue water are the main issues on the agenda today. On the opposite side, if you choose to work in developing countries, clearly design engineering and construction of infrastructures are the main roles available.

Secondly, regarding the remuneration perspectives, it is certain that the water sector, compared to sectors such as Oil & Gas or Telecommunications, is not in the top rank of better wages, however, those who choose this sector can have the satisfaction of seeing the impact of their work on the improvement of living conditions of people. I can give my own testimony, I had the opportunity to be involved in the construction and rehabilitation of water supply systems in several villages in the Island of Flores, Indonesia, which allowed the children from those villages to stop walking several kilometers per day to fetch water and meant they could start to go to school. To see this happening is priceless.

Thank you for sharing with us all your experience and advices. Any final message you would like to give to our readers?

I would like to say that young people who want to achieve a successful career need to reconcile three factors:

1.  A strong academic background, to ensure they have the tools the job market and the sector where they want to work are looking for

2. After joining a company, maintain an attitude of consistently updating knowledge  and maintaining interest in what is going on inside and outside the sector where you work

3. A constant self-assessment exercise which will act to leverage their own continuous improvement (what motivates me? how can I improve my performance? how can I make a difference?).

By Fatine Ezbakhe
Civil Engineer specialized in Water

Published on 2015-06-02 07:47:04

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