The impact of OKP on the Myanmar private water sector

Experiences from former students and Arcadis staff

Capacity building is one of the main focus points for the Orange Knowledge Program (OKP) by Nuffic. Besides universities, also engineering firms contribute to capacity building on an international scale. Arcadis, an international engineering company which is active in the private water sector in Myanmar, collaborates actively with universities and offers internships to students. Phuu Thit Kyaw and Hnin Nandar Aye, two former students who both completed their bachelor degree at MMU, have recently started their carreer at Arcadis. Read more about their experiences, tips and tricks in the interviews below. 

Interview with Tanya Huizer

Senior Project Leader Water & Environment / Myanmar Country Representative, usually resides in Yangon to run the Arcadis Yangon office.

What qualities do you find most important when looking for a new engineer for Arcadis Myanmar? How did Phuu Thit and Hnin meet these requirements?

We looked for someone who is eager to learn, but with relevant (basic) understanding and skills in river and coastal engineering or ports and harbour engineering. Another requirement are computer skills, and English writing and speaking.  We provide opportunities to improve computer skills and English writing and speaking but willingness and commitment to work on that is required. And finally, it is important that someone fits our ‘team’ in terms of expertise but also other interests and skills like communication and project management. Phuu Thit did her internship for Myanmar Maritime University at Arcadis on a river engineering project. This was a great chance for her to show her professionals skills, while we realized that she perfectly fits our team. Collaboration with Myanmar universities like MMU are very relevant for us.

You have been in Myanmar for quite a long time, did you notice improvements at the universities and the skills level of young graduates/interns?

It looks like that the students and fresh graduates are more open and dare to share their views on technical matters in projects, which was not the case 5 years ago. I think the collaboration of the universities with international universities like TU Delft and IHE Delft, but also companies like Arcadis, help them to transform the theoretical approach into an approach supported by practical examples in Myanmar including field visits and case studies. Thesis research focusing on ongoing projects and actual problems made a large change in understanding and being able to ‘apply’ what students learned during their classes at university. 

Why is it important to have local staff at Arcadis Myanmar?

Local staff in Myanmar form a strong link between Dutch colleagues at Arcadis and our Myanmar counterparts, government agencies, research institutes and private sector clients. Additionally they have good understanding of local information and are able to tell us what is needed for Myanmar government officials or decision-makers. The other way around do we, as Arcadis, feel a passion for capacity building. Young staff at Arcadis develop a learning plan at the start of their internship or working life, focussing on professional expertise / fields of interests and on professional skills. We have team meetings to exchange activities and knowledge by guest speakers from Arcadis Global. They are learning on the job and encouraged to be critical on their own activities and deliverables. So the importance to have local staff in Arcadis Myanmar is two-ways. They are of great support to us for local contacts, knowledge and understanding and we aim to build capacity of the younger generation of water managers in Myanmar.

Where do you see the added value of capacity building programs such as OKP/Niche for a company like Arcadis?

A change in the education programs on water took place from a very technical theoretical way of teaching to a more integrated approach in the addressed topics and by including more practical examples and field visits. Collaboration with Dutch organisations, universities and companies, helped the universities in Myanmar (lectures and the students) to be more open and make use of opportunities like internship positions at our office in Yangon.

Any ideas for improvements or ideas to strengthen the universities in Myanmar further?

Group work and team assignments on specific practical problems in Myanmar could be improved. We noticed that fresh graduates are often still searching for their professional strengths while working in a team and how to organize teamwork. Additionally, we also noticed that ‘presenting’ in English is often a new experience and confidence in this is limited. It would be good to pay more time, as part of the programs, on communication and presentation skills. Recently we asked our Myanmar team members to prepare individual presentations of 10 minutes of any topic they liked, just to practice presenting digitally to our team. Presentations with passion on Ayeyarwady Dolphins, Feminism, Dutch Embankments, and Friendship helped everyone to get more confidence in presenting. A feedback round resulted in tips and tricks for future presentations.

What has positively surprised you about the interns/graduates from MMU you have worked with?

Their eagerness and commitment to Arcadis and our clients. We try to create an environment in which they feel actual responsibilities but at the same time get room and time to work on their personal learning goals. It is also great to see how our young Myanmar staff, former MMU students, supervise our current MMU trainees, review their deliverables and guide them in project activities. Our two former MMU students, Hnin Nandar Aye and Phuu Thit, are now also participating in the network the of the Young Expert Program (YEP) of the Netherlands Government/NWP. I am proud on this team and I honestly hope that we can support and work with many more MMU graduates in the future!

Interview with Hnin Nandar Aye

Junior Consultant Ports and Waterways - Water & Environment at the Arcadis Yangon office, completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Ports & Harbours at MMU

What is your role at Arcadis? What are your responsibilities?

I’m currently working as a Junior Consultant Ports and Waterways in Arcadis project office at Yangon. I am mainly responsible for project planning, coordination and management and stakeholder consultation. In addition, I have contributed by assisting my international experts in data collection, field surveying, data analysis, capacity building and GIS mapping for current and previous projects.

How has your bachelor at MMU prepared you for your current work?

Although my background is not directly relevant to my current work, the minor subjects and the shared experiences from my lecturers becomes the pillars to build my profession. I have also learned many things from my Arcadis colleagues.

How have you benefitted from the OKP programme at MMU?

Mainly the development of new course material at MMU, including applications of interesting models and field trips.

What do you enjoy most about working for a Dutch firm in Yangon?

I feel very lucky to be part of such a warm, supportive, flexible, and non-hierarchical environment.

What has been the most exciting project you have worked on since you’ve started at Arcadis?

All of the projects implemented by Arcadis are so incredible. If I have to choose one of them, it would be RWSS, the “Regional Water Security Study in Greater Yangon Area”. In this project we are defining the priority no regret measures for water security in greater Yangon area. As it is a multi-stakeholder based project, it requires cautious project coordination to fulfill all of the goals and requirements of the stakeholders. Moreover, I’ve been participating in every single task from the start of the project. We met many difficulties and constraints during the project period but by means of the unity of the team, we successfully passed through. The project is nearly completed but I am sure I will remember it forever.

Any valuable advice for current students?

In Myanmar, most of the students are influenced by their parents and they realize their passion in the university student life. Some are lucky that they chose the path they choose is the same one that they’re passionate about, but some aren’t. To those students who are not yet following their passion, I’d like to share some words: do follow your heart - it’s never too late to be yourself. Cheers!

Interview with Phuu Thit Kyaw

Junior Consultant Rivers and Coasts – Water & Environment at the Arcadis Yangon office, completed a Bachelor of Engineering in River and Coastal Engineering at MMU

What is your role at Arcadis? What are your responsibilities?

I am currently working as a Junior Consultant Rivers and Coasts at Arcadis Yangon. According to my experiences of previous projects, I have been familiar with the obligation of water engineer and project manager. Additionally, I have developed and contributed to the expertise in the sector of water management, data analysis, hydraulic modelling, field survey, GIS data processing and some essential skills such as management, planning, communication and evaluation, which are my ongoing responsibilities.

How has your bachelor at MMU prepared you for your current work?

I have gained expertise in river engineering, coastal engineering and other engineering subjects related to the civil & maritime sector. In my bachelor study, I mainly focused on river engineering and my thesis was about river bank erosion and river morphology. What I studied at MMU for the bachelor degree is exactly the same field of my current profession. I can efficiently utilize my knowledge and backgrounds at work.

How have you benefitted from the OKP programme at MMU?

More field work and practical things, not only theory and learning from books but also going to the field, looking at case studies, and using models.

What do you enjoy most about working for a Dutch firm in Yangon?

Arcadis is the same place where I completed my internship, giving me 2 years of experience at the firm. After 2 years at Arcadis, I am still enjoying my work mainly due to the flexible working environment and no-power-distance colleagues.

What has been the most exciting project you have worked on since you’ve started at Arcadis?

If I may choose one of my most exciting projects at Arcadis, it would be “Bank and Bed Protection of the Ayeyarwady River, Nyaungdon”. It was directly related to river engineering which is my main area of interest. The project period was remarkably mind-blowing since it was my very first working experience and research which I will never forget.

Any valuable advice for current students?

Stick to your own interests and don’t give up on that. Yours may be different from others - that doesn’t matter because it is your pure authenticity.