Careers in Infrastructure

Taking a bit of a break from the more heavy-going infrastructure topics and looking at another, perhaps more personally-important topic – careers! In this short article, I thought to just share generally what sort of work and roles are there in this sector, from what I’ve observed in my few years being involved in it. I think infrastructure can be thought of as an extremely interesting sector to build a career. And it also helps to break out of the traditional mould of thinking of a career within a single profession, or in a linear fashion. In the brave new world where linear progression is no longer the norm, infrastructure presents a new way of thinking about, and approaching future careers.

As I’ve mentioned previously, there are various different streams of work for any given infrastructure project; and the professions with expertise they require would include engineers, financiers/bankers, accountants, lawyers, business development managers, project managers, economic consultants, planners, technical designers, insurers. Of course, the different parties have varying degrees of involvement and at different times, but with this spread of requirements and different perspectives, there is opportunities for anyone to move around from specialist roles into more general roles, and also for generalist to look towards acquiring credentials and become specialists as well. In fact, I’m beginning to see a lot of specialists in the area of infrastructure making a career out of it by moving to more general management or investment roles. For example, a project finance banker can move into the developer firms to help with project development, build the case for investment internally and drive the project forward. An infrastructure lawyer can do the same, bringing his specialisation into the contracts negotiation and even the structuring of legal risks to protect the developer.

Engineers, on the other hand who might have experience operating infrastructure or even knowledge in the construction and technical solutions can hop over to the commercial team to assess the commercial viability, leveraging on their understanding of the technical requirements and solutions for the piece of infrastructure. Even as a bid engineer, one can grow to be a general manager overseeing the business development team. On the other hand, a general business development staff can build up their spreadsheet and modeling skills, and become a specialist in raising capital or financing for the projects they are working on. In that sense, building a career in infrastructure can be more than just about climbing the corporate ladder and moving to a higher place but getting more exposure on different sides of the deal and being better able to get it to close because your understand helps to de-bottleneck underlying issues.

Having given a fair number of examples on the mobility of the various different kinds of roles within the sector, I thought to lay out also the subject and topic areas that infrastructure calls for. That is perhaps the area which I found the most fascinating having been involved in the work myself close to 6 years now. Infrastructure is multi-disciplinary, and range from national level concerns to hyper-local issues. I’ve already mentioned the various areas of expertise required ranging from financial, legal, technical, economic, business-commercial, even strong understanding of environment and wildlife issues. Of course, these topic areas don’t have to be mastered by any single person and are generally parcelled out broadly to domain experts who have their distinct roles in the project. For example, the consultant group behind the environmental-social impact assessment reports may consists of anthropologists, biologists, scientists, putting together the report to be read by the financiers, insurers and other stakeholders. On the other hand, the banks will of course have the accountants, the financial modellers as well as the due diligence teams.

To a large extent, when you’re working within infrastructure, there is opportunity to hop around across the various relevant disciplines. And even more importantly, having both a private as well as public perspective in infrastructure is actually really useful because it ultimately takes both sides to work together to deliver on projects. To that extent, there should be no qualms about moving across both sides and gaining the experience to cover greater grounds. Of course, there’s added opportunities in the global organisations like the World Bank Group, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

This article is part of a series I’m working on to make topics in infrastructure a little more accessible to students and people from outside the industry who might want to get involved.