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Christophe Leroy MWH

In a recent meeting with one of my clients, a Multilateral Development Bank, we were having a debate on a proposal I was preparing, in which I suggested to bring in a brilliant employee on one of our projects to work for us. The client however, was reluctant to agree, based on the argument that the level of specific experience on donor funded projects of this specialist, and indirectly his age, was considered to be too junior. For those who are familiar with this IFI/MDB/donor project environment, we do know that clients always look for expertise with at least 7-10 years of similar experience in the specific contract of the project intervention. Many donors have had this approach for years.

The consequence I see coming, is that the pool of experts able to deliver development aid consultancies is aging and is not renewed enough as there are barriers for new experts to come onto the market – how can they for example accumulate their first years of experience in the field, if the minimum is seven years on projects?

The number of new junior consultants that are entering the market place therefore is very limited and I predict that – in a decade –we will not have enough experienced and qualified expertise to replace the aging generation of today’s experts and deliver the work our clients expect us to do.

The European Commission for example considered a couple of years ago to launch a “Youth for Development” initiative, addressing the above situation. To date however, this initiative has never concretely materialized, while the consulting industry was – and is still – very much in support of this kind of initiative.

With our clients and the consulting industry working on development questions, we do wish to think about ways to allow a new generation of consultants to enter the market. In practice then, how could we make it possible for young consultants to start to gain the so valued experience they are required to have now, while the experienced consultants are still actively involved?

I am proposing four simple points of action:

  1. Donors should decrease the requirements and years of relevant expertise to acceptable standards, to engage more junior expertise on projects.
  2. Jointly recognize the value of using internal employee staff to deliver project work – more than we do now.
  3. Promote global price contracts, in which more junior staff can be working on projects, and where the clients judge us on the end results, not on the years of development experience of the experts.
  4. Consider a practical and actual Youth for Development initiative or similar programme.

It is critical to think long term in our industry. Consultants and donors here share the same interest.

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