Urban Systems students attend high-profile P3 conference
In November 2023, three students from the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in Urban Systems travelled to Toronto to attend the annual conference of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, a high-profile event bringing together national and international leaders and experts in the field.
Elizabeth Dier, Yash Mehta and Zhuoran Zhao were three of only 12 post-secondary students from across Canada awarded a Next Generation Talent scholarship to attend the conference following a competitive application process.
The students were encouraged to apply by Dr. Alan Russell, who teaches Project Delivery and Economics in the Urban Systems program. All three were interested in attending the conference to learn more about the latest developments in the field from the keynote and panel presentations, network with colleagues and industry leaders in informal settings, and take advantage of the unique opportunities offered to Next Generation Talent participants.
Engineer leaders explore how to leverage the integration of technology and innovation
One of the highlights for the students was participating in a fireside chat. Each student was paired with an industry leader to discuss three thought-provoking questions about significant issues in private-public partnerships (P3). The event put the students front and centre, positioning them as experts in their own right on the challenges and opportunities of P3 projects.
Elizabeth was matched with Melissa Di Marco, a Partner at Accuracy Canada.
Their conversation explored the expertise that engineering leaders can bring to P3 projects, strategies for building effective partnerships, and ideas on how to leverage the integration of technology and innovation to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of P3 initiatives.
Melissa also asked Yash questions. Their discussion covered the expected influence of P3 projects on urban development over the coming years, how public-private partnerships can contribute to more resilient urban infrastructure and ideas on how the public and private sectors might better collaborate to address the unique needs of urban areas.
“I emphasized the need for collaborative decision-making, noting that P3s play an important role in advancing reconciliation,” Yash says.
“We also talked about the need to align core principles right from the procurement stage, and the importance of focusing on appropriate risk sharing and early stakeholder engagement to prevent stakeholder conflicts alter on.”
Zhuoran’s industry counterpart was Gary Quennville from Green Infrastructure Partners.
Their conversation explored how urban systems professionals can address the challenges and opportunities of P3 initiatives, strategies for optimizing partnerships among stakeholders to develop sustainable and innovative solutions, and ways to incorporate green infrastructure and smart city technologies in P3 projects.
“We talked about the importance of leadership to ensure collaborative decision making.”
Expanding the professional network in Canada
The three students concurred that attending the conference was a valuable opportunity to gain insider knowledge on the evolution of the P3 model in Canada, trends in measuring success, advocacy efforts and more. It was also an excellent venue for raising their own profile in the industry and expanding their network within Canada.
“It was interesting to witness what a well-connected industry this is and how it is made up of so many deeply informed and engaged individuals,” says Elizabeth.
“I also found it heartening to see the significant representation of women in the industry who are leading prominent organizations and projects.”
Elizabeth made some connections at the conference with her counterparts in health care in Ontario, and she has since hired a consulting firm she met at the event to do a project for Vancouver Coastal Health, where she is the Director of Real Estate.
“The conference enabled us to informally connect with industry professionals, particularly at reception dinners where you could approach someone who had given a keynote presentation,” says Yash.
“Conversations about industry trends would often segue into more personal topics, so you felt that you had made a meaningful connection. It definitely gave me insight into where the job opportunities will be and the terminology and trends that are currently in focus.”
“This conference was part of our learning journey, bridging the knowledge we’d gained from the Urban Systems courses with the latest topics in the industry,” says Zhuoran. “Progressive P3 was a term much in use, indicating the industry’s desire to rebuild partnerships through greater levels of collaboration. You could feel all the stakeholders contributing to the conversation, and it felt like we were part of the conversation too.”