#EngineeredOURway – Helena Houia

We hear from Helena, our Head of Talent Acquisition, Mobility and Compensation, who shares her WSP journey with us so far.


What do you do?
I lead our talent acquisition strategy, which includes the development of strategic plans to identify global talent and international mobility that fulfils the current and future skills we need for success and client delivery. I am also responsible for supporting the business in maximising the appointment of internal resources to our opportunities, including the support provided in the redeployment of our employees.  I am leading our capability to recruit from a diverse background, and particularly our ability to attract and develop talented nationals in the countries we work. I am also responsible for the compensation strategy across the Middle East, identifying areas for enhancement that help the business achieve its strategic objectives and continue to improve the experience of our people.

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in New Zealand of Maori descent. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and make up around 14% of the population. New Zealanders are notoriously nomadic:  I grew up in a town called Palmerston North, went to high school in Nelson, completed my Bachelors in Dunedin then finally did my post-graduate studies in Wellington, capital of New Zealand and one of the windiest places on Earth.

How long have you been with WSP and in the region?
I joined WSP as part of the Louis Berger integration in March 2019, and I have been with Louis Berger since 2014. In 2006, I came to Dubai to visit a friend for two weeks.  I immediately fell in love with the pace of the city, the travel and diverse lifestyle - 13 years later, I am still here and loving life.

What got you into engineering?

 Engineering was a booming industry when I first arrived in Dubai so it was only natural to want to be part of its story and success.  There are no limits to engineers taking one person’s dream and turning it into reality.  As part of my job, I speak to construction, engineering and design professionals from all over the world who are still in complete awe of what Dubai, the UAE and wider GCC countries have been able to accomplish and continue to achieve – true pioneers with an entrepreneurial spirit.  One of my best mates is a structural engineer and got me into the programme Mega Structures, and it was fascinating to discover that most the case studies on the show are from the UAE or within the GCC region.


What has been your best accomplishment at work?

Tough to choose but one of my biggest projects was streamlining all talent acquisition systems and processes for the international business at Louis Berger which covered Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa, Latin American and The Caribbean.  It was complex in terms of language, connectivity, currency and legislation, but we had good people across the world all wanting to improve efficiencies and work together towards achieving our shared goals and objectives. Within 6 months, all geographies were following the same process, consistent and quality standards implemented, shared global resources for sourcing talent and one applicant tracking system that centralized our talent acquisition data.


What are you passionate about?
From a work perspective – at the risk of sounding cheesy - I am passionate about talent acquisition, high performance and efficiency.  I enjoy interacting with people from all backgrounds and experiences, I thrive in high-paced, high-pressure environments, and I get a buzz from winning new work and attracting talent to our business. Lastly, I feel at my best when the team around me are thriving in their roles.  Developing and leading people is something that I am passionate about and prioritize in my day-to-day activities.

What is it you do outside of work that you feel most proud of?
My time outside of work is family-focused with two children under two! Life is busy, so coping with children at such a young age keeps everything in perspective for me.  Aside from my family, another source of pride is my culture. My tribes are called Ngati Porou (East Coast of the North Island) and Ngati Kahungunu (lower East Coast of the North Island). Upon leaving NZ, I got a Ta Moko (traditional Maori tattoo) as a reminder of where I am from and who I am.  Ta Moko is an ancient art form within the Maori culture which tells a story and represents a person’s genealogy. Traditionally, this was worn on the face and body for both men and women and acted as a kind of passport for Maori people. I also actively participate in Maori performing arts called kapahaka, recently made famous by the All Blacks’ haka.  I am a member of Ngati Koraha (Tribe of the Desert) - we perform traditional Maori dances for entertainment and appear at events locally, including next year at EXPO 2020.

What was your maternity leave experience like at WSP?
It was a positive and restful experience. I felt supported leading up to the time that I went on leave and welcomed when I returned.  There was no pressure on my return date, flexible working was highlighted to me as an option and I was encouraged to focus on what was important, which was to have my baby.  The team really stepped up in my absence so, I could switch off and concentrate on the well-being of my new-born and my own personal recovery.  It was a truly special time for me and my family and WSP enhanced that experience tenfold.

How would you describe your integration experience with WSP?
Intense, challenging and rewarding, all at the same time, with different levels of impact during the transition stages.  This was my first acquisition experience, so there was a lot to learn, understand and assist with to ensure its success, which challenged me both professionally and personally. In retrospect, I am glad we set ambitious timelines to complete the transition, although some found the speed of change a challenge, it minimised uncertainty and allowed people to gain clarity on their future. There was a keen desire for transparency wherever possible, regular communication and updates. Most importantly, from the top down there was a focus on doing the right thing, and treating people fairly and respectfully.

What do you think makes WSP a great place to work?
The people and culture make us unique and stand out from the crowd. There is a genuine awareness that excellence is a habit, not an act. We want to rise above the norms, nurturing diversity, inclusion, innovation and excellence in everything we do. These ambitions resonate with me as a working professional in the Middle East, but are rarely seen in practice in this market. I am encouraged to see and participate in round table meetings to discuss what we can or should be doing better in this regard, which is an ongoing process.