APWA/IPWEA International Exchange Program

Peter Way
Director of City Works, Logan City Council
Queensland, Australia

As the old saying goes, travel broadens the mind. This is doubly so when the travel is combined with a study tour to enable participants to see, first hand, work practices being utilized in another country.

APWA and its kindred organization in Australia, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA), are investigating an exciting new exchange program. This program envisages one successful APWA member spending up to three weeks with a host member in Australia to absorb the workings of the host member’s organization. In addition, he or she will spend part of the exchange time attending the Australian National Conference on Public Works Engineering. As the name of the program implies, the member will then reciprocate by hosting the Australian member for a similar program in the APWA member’s organization and attendance at the APWA Congress. Each Association/Institute will meet the airfare costs and the conference registration cost. Through the hosting arrangements, other costs should be minimal.

This concept follows on from the highly successful Study Tours that have been run for some years now by IPWEA. These tours have seen many IPWEA members travel to foreign shores—mainly North America, but also the United Kingdom—to experience the latest in technology and management techniques being practiced in these countries. Without exception, the feedback from those who participate in these Study Tours has been that they are invaluable in terms of raising awareness regarding the latest management practices. The participants have returned with increased skills and confidence that adds value to their employment.

John Howard, General Manager Operations at Cairns City Council in Queensland, spoke of some of the benefits that can be obtained through participation in the APWA/IPWEA exchanges.

“I visited five Councils in the U.S. in 1998,” Howard says. “I met with key staff who went out of their way to make me welcome and give briefings and inspections on their operations. We identified many similarities and differences between U.S. and Australian methods and standards and areas of best practice. We exchanged experiences and learned from each other. I am a better professional for the experience and my employer has gained a significant knowledge base to repay the cost of the study tour many times over. I would encourage all engineers to experience the rich rewards of an overseas study tour as I did.”

Steve Watters, Senior Design Engineer at Fisher Stewart Pty Ltd, had similar comments.

“I found the experience to be extremely rewarding, both from a personal and professional perspective,” Watters says. “The trip gave me a greater appreciation of our place in the world, and demonstrated that other people had similar problems to those that we experience in Australia. We encountered many new approaches in the United States, but also were pleased to discover that in some areas, we could talk with confidence about innovative practices in local government in Australia which the Americans had little knowledge of (for example, asset management in local government, and privatization/corporatization of local government services).

“We met some very interesting and friendly people, both at the cities that we visited, and from other areas within the United States and Canada at the APWA Congress. I have managed to keep in contact with some of these people, and the networking opportunities have been fantastic in this respect.”

The stumbling block in establishing the program is, of course, the funding. The IPWEA member has access to a number of foundations set up many years ago to support the professional development of our members. These foundations are the result of the foresight of our early members who used the proceeds of various trade shows, conferences, and donations from councils and companies to build up reserves of funds. Trustees under the trustee legislation administer the foundations and, as a result of wise investment, the interest earned by the reserves can now fund activities such as this exchange program.

The recipients of foundation grants are also encouraged to approach their employer for assistance, and the positive results achieved have convinced many of the employers to provide quite substantial assistance. APWA members may have to rely heavily on this form of assistance until similar foundations are in place in the U.S.

If you are interested in this project, you should discuss it with your local chapter and with your representative on the APWA International Affairs Committee.