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Taken to task

Working lives Profile

A group of WSP engineers met up in Helsinki last month to have their say about the business, as part of the company's Taskforce Initiative. We talked to two of them about why they put their heads above the parapet.

Becky Wilson and Stewart Darkin have quite enough to do at WSP. As principal environmental consultant, Wilson is seconded to Heathrow airport as part of the planning and environment team managing the airport's water quality strategy.

Darkin is an associate at WSP development giving pre-planning and pre-purchase strategic advice to developers.

They are busy people, yet they have found the energy and the time to be part of the company's Taskforce - a group of young WSP employees who meet regularly to give an alternative view on development of the business to the firm's management.

The Taskforce is a two year commitment and involves two major pieces of research annually, each culminating in a presentation to 40 of the firm's senior managers. It's a heavy workload at a time in your career when you are already being asked to work flat out.

Why do it? 'I wanted to gain a greater insight into how WSP works, something that is difficult when you are so focused on the client, ' says Wilson, 27, who is this year's UK Taskforce chair.

'It seemed to be a great way to learn more about the other parts of WSP Group, get to know key people in other disciplines and get exposure to senior management at a young age.

'I've learned a huge amount about business and the different ways of working we have. The networks I've established are something I can take forward with me in the company and will be valuable in the future, ' she says.

Darkin, 31, agrees. 'I saw it as an opportunity to develop my business and communication skills, ' he says. 'The best things are the support we get from the company and what I am learning about other parts of WSP.

Out in Helsinki the 10 UK Taskforce members met up with their counterparts from the Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian parts of WSP's business.

'The purpose was to meet and exchange ideas and knowledge about our business and cultures, ' says Wilson. 'We also spent time planning a conference for 100 WSP staff from around the world that the Taskforce will facilitate.

'Through developing networks between WSP's staff in these different countries the company is investing in relationships that will take the company forward as a global unit.'

There are no automatic benefits of being on Taskforce - no salary increase or promotion.

But the improved knowledge of the business and the chance to work with senior management, right up to the group chief executive, can present opportunites to develop professionally, Darkin says.

Staff put themselves forward to join the group and then go through a selection process, including a presentation.

Management obviously encourage participation. But what do Wilson and Darkin's peers think - is it a good thing or are the Taskforce members a bit too keen?

'Probably a mixture of the two, ' Wilson says. 'One of the things we are conscious of is that Taskforce voice not just our own views but those of the young people within the business.

'So far this year we have had a number of focus groups and issued a survey to all UK staff.

These help to engage staff and most of them believe they get something out of what we are doing too.'

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