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From Member to Chair - How volunteering helped me develop new skills
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From Member to Chair - How volunteering helped me develop new skills

16 Apr 24
Joe Russell, SoPHE

I was asked if I would be interested in writing this article as I come to the end of my time with the SoPHE YEN and at first I was hesitant but it gave me a great opportunity to pause and look back at all the different opportunities volunteering has offered me.

I first got involved with the Society of Public Health (SoPHE) Young Engineers Network (YEN) when I joined WSP back in 2017. When I joined, the SoPHE YEN had only been going a couple of years. I saw it as a good opportunity to expand my technical knowledge in a more informal environment alongside networking with fellow young engineers, especially as two WSP colleagues were active committee members.

I first joined the committee as a floating member, where I helped organise CPDs and venues for the technical evenings alongside the education & events team. The first event I helped to organise was “The good, the bad, the ugly, a look at gas engineering design” hosted in the basement bar at The Inn of Court, with this event we had engineers and contractors talking about the key things to consider with gas systems with watch it notes, and good practices shared to attendees.

Through my time assisting in this role, I learnt how to organise events including organising venues, finances, and speakers. But most of all, the time I spent as a floating member of the committee helped me to learn more about CIBSE as a whole, and how our ongoing learning and understanding helps shapes the future of the Public Health industry. 

At the next AGM I stepped up to a take on the secretary role, building on helping to organise events and taking on responsibilities for organising committee meetings. This helped me develop interpersonal skills through being able to organise meetings with external parties—an important skill to develop and one which wasn’t taught in classes. 

Coming out of Covid, we had to rebuild the SoPHE YEN committee, and our presence within the industry. We identified areas we felt the YEN was weak in and how to address them. Firstly, we set out to recruit members who were driven and keen to promote the discipline. This was achieved through networking with the main SoPHE steering committee and wider CIBSE networks to find individuals with passion and drive to recruit into our committee, bringing fresh ideas and broader understanding of our peer’s knowledge & experiences. 

Secondly, with the help of the new and existing committee and through informal networking sessions we identified engineering knowledge and skills gaps that had developed during the pandemic within our network of apprentices and graduates.

One of these areas was the lack of site visits due to access restrictions leading to our members having limited or no first-hand exposure to systems they were designing and being unable to comfortably identify errors with installations. To resolve this, we worked closely with the industry working group and contractors working group to facilitate hands on CPDs and visits to sites & facilities.

Through the industry working group, we were also given opportunities to attend the Plumbing Centre of Excellence, where members can get hands on alongside plumbing students and see in-person the systems they are designing, both in perfect installs and as fault finding sessions.

In 2021 following the rebuilding of our committee and couple of our senior members stepping down, I was nominated as Chair. During my time as Chair, I have had the pleasure of representing the SoPHE YEN network amongst our peers, having worked closely with our previous Chair to liaise with the CIBSE Global YEN committee and YEN London network. Through these networks we have been able to bring more awareness to the wider YEN of what public health engineering is and also support in plugging knowledge gaps by extending invites to the wider networks to our events and CPDs.

Through my connections with both these wider networks I have been able to represent SoPHE on panel discussions at CIBSE YEN awards, CIBSE Careers Fairs and CIBSE YEN London events.

The first panel I was involved in, and my first public speaking experience, was a discussion on “The power of mentoring to inspire the next generation" at the CIBSE YEN awards. This was an easy topic for me to discuss as I have been fortunate enough to have benefitted from mentorships throughout my career, which I am thankful for.  Within WSP, I’ve had some very good continual mentorship, both for technical and soft skills from line management and peer-to-peer mentors. While amongst SoPHE I’ve also had many informal mentors who have been able to help me develop a broad range of skills and subject matter knowledge.

These opportunities to get involved in public speaking, although daunting at first, have allowed me to develop the skills required to have confidence in myself and my knowledge of my chosen engineering field, allowing me to attend meetings with clients, contractors or other consultants and confidently discuss my work or ideas. 

As Chair I have also been involved more at the Plumbing Centre of Excellence, through taking part in helping to run the young engineer’s competition and getting involved within scoring the students competition. I’ve also been able to work closely with our IWG & CWG chairs to continue offering opportunities for site and facilities visits allowing the YEN members especially those amongst smaller consultancies who may have limited opportunities the chance to gain much needed experience.

Within SoPHE, I regularly attended the steering committee meetings working alongside seniors in our field to further the aims of the society and ensure the needs of the YEN members were represented to enable the committee to be able to continue to develop its offering to the network.

Through experience with the YEN, I have developed a lot of useful skills which I was able to apply during my EngTech & LCIBSE application as well as just recently my membership of SoPHE application, as the roles I’ve carried out have allowed me to build experience towards criteria required for these professional recognitions.

These skills have also allowed me to continue to volunteer within SoPHE and this year I am progressing from the YEN committee and standing as Honorary Secretary for the main SoPHE steering group, upon the request of the outgoing Chair. In this role I will continue to represent SoPHE at CIBSE events and continue working with the other fantastic volunteers to further the knowledge, guidance and standards within the field of public health engineering.

Overall I’m incredibly grateful to all those who have offered me the opportunities to date as without them I wouldn’t have known what I was capable of or developed the skills and knowledge I have acquired.

I would encourage all those who are interested in getting involved with a network such as SoPHE and the YEN networks, as to do so gives the opportunities to learn and gain new experiences which are invaluable.  For more information about volunteering with CIBSE and the networks please visit the website CIBSE Volunteering


Joe Russell, Public Health Engineer, WSP

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