Operis is this year once again sponsoring a selection of students to attend the conference of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships – where for two days each November major players in the P3 world in Canada and the Americas gather in Toronto. The full range of P3 expertise is represented at the event: construction companies, banks, investment funds, accountancy firms, commercial lawyers, civil engineers, architects.

Government officials and politicians also often use the conference to signal the direction of their policy-making on infrastructure. Back in 2014, when Operis also sponsored the student attendees within the CCPPP’s Next Generation Talent initiative, the gathering was addressed by Justin Trudeau, as Liberal Party opposition leader. This year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford will be a keynote speaker. After the October 21 election saw Trudeau’s Liberal Party returned to power, interest is likely to be especially high.

So what should this year’s Operis-sponsored attendees expect to take away from the event? We caught up with some of the class of 2014 for their perspectives.

“The atmosphere was that everyone was coming to network, to make connections, to get a pulse of the industry as a whole,” recalls Adam Holmes. “It was much larger than I had expected, with more high-level participation.” In 2014, Adam was an MBA student keen to explore the private-sector side of the fence, after encountering the P3 mechanism when working as a program officer with the Government of Alberta. Without sponsorship (not least to cover the return flight from Alberta) the cost of attending would have been prohibitive.

Adam today is at the interface between public and private sectors, if not working directly on P3s. Integrated project delivery – where government employees work closely with a private operator – is central to his current role as a Senior Project Manager at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Back in 2014 Daniel Herscovitch was likewise studying for an MBA, after a first degree in civil engineering. He had had some P3 experience, working on the 407 Highway project, at SNC-Lavalin. But after attending the CCPPP conference he knew he wanted to specialise in project finance. “Being there in person allowed me, as a young engineer, to see how much was really going on. It helped me see the financial side of things,” he recalls. As a Development Manager at Bird Capital, he is today involved in the development and financing of P3s and other projects, continuing periodically to draw on Operis’ expertise in this respect.

The CCPPP conference is an occasion for relative newcomers to interact with more senior figures, Daniel says. Perhaps inevitably, in view of the complexity of P3 contracts, the sector is weighted towards “older, highly experienced professionals”, although this age imbalance has become less marked over recent years, he adds.

Our third sponsored 2014 attendee, Harrison Clark, is now a lawyer specialising in real estate at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer in Calgary. Five years ago, he was on the final stretch of his studies for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Saskatchewan. He was already interested in technical business contracts, having previously researched oil pipeline construction for the provincial government.

The conference’s breakout sessions were particularly useful, Harrison says: “The topics they talked about were very in-depth, but it was also a chance to learn without having any specific knowledge. If you had a little bit of P3 or construction or infrastructure background, you could follow.”

At the following year’s conference, he fell into discussion with a lawyer from Calgary, who explained to him the principles of P3 contracts and helped Harrison realise he wanted a career in contract law.

Daniel’s advice to student attendees is to be undaunted and make the most of this window on the P3 sector: “Come prepared. Be open-minded. You may be meeting with industry leaders. See what interests them and focus on that.”

Operis, for its part, prizes its sponsorship role within the CCPPP’s Next Generation Talent initiative as a recognition of the importance of a fresh intake into the sector each year; it is complementary to Operis’ in-house focus on training and mentoring. Operis delegates at the 2019 conference will be there to mingle, to build and renew links with a wide range of stakeholders, and to keep an ear to the ground for emerging market trends. They will also help ensure that the 2019 batch of sponsored students are able to make the most of this invaluable career-development opportunity.

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