Attracting The Next Generation of Water Leaders
As an engineering intern, I was paid to watch videos of the insides of sewer pipes for 8-hours a day. It was a sh*t job, but someone had to do it. VAPAR started as much from a burning desire to create better work experiences for the next generation, as much as wanting to create a practical solution to a problem that I experienced first-hand.
The digital transformation of the world’s water industry means that water utilities are starting to compete for talent with technology giants of the world. A formidable opponent.
Our industry faces a big challenge: finding and keeping talent for the important jobs in the water sector in a fast-changing work environment. We need skilled workers who understand and can adapt quickly to embrace the technology that the sector needs. And it’s not just about bringing them in; it’s also about making sure they stay and feel valued in our ever-evolving and tech-driven work environment.
The Global Challenge
In the US, The median age of water employees is 48 years and 30 to 50 percent of these workers will be eligible to retire within the next 5 to 10 years (Dickerson and Butler, 2018). The identification of these challenges and implications as well as the need for a collaborative response has led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to launch America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative.
In the UK Statistics also show workers under the age of 24 account for just 8% of the UK water sector workforce, a figure that could become an issue with more than a fifth of the industry’s current skilled workforce expected to retire within a decade.
In Australia, the water sector employs in excess of 80,000 people, and with an ageing population, WSAA has commissioned a report ‘Workforces Skills of the Future’ by KPMG to help illuminate the challenges and recommendations for the countries water sector.
In New Zealand, Water New Zealand estimates the three water sectors of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater need an additional 6000 to 9000 skilled workers over the next 30 years. In response, the industry has launched ‘We Are Water’, a workforce development strategy
Rising To The Challenge
Most of the initiatives that have been launched to address this challenge have had similarly themed recommendations for the industry as a whole:
Investing in Education and Training Programs
One effective solution is to invest in education and training programs that specifically target the skills needed in the water industry. Collaborations between educational institutions, industry stakeholders, and government bodies can lead to the development of tailored programs, workshops, and certifications. This ensures that individuals entering the workforce or those seeking to upskill have access to relevant and current training, addressing the specific needs of the water industry.
Promoting Apprenticeships and Internships
Encouraging apprenticeships and internships is another practical solution. By providing opportunities for hands-on experience, people can gain practical skills while contributing to the workforce. Companies can establish partnerships with educational institutions to create structured internship programs. This not only helps in cultivating a pool of skilled workers but also allows businesses to identify and nurture talent early on, potentially leading to long-term employment relationships; creating leaders of the future.
Embracing Technology and Automation
The integration of technology and automation can alleviate some of the burdens of a skills shortage. Implementing advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation can enhance productivity and offset the need for a large workforce in certain areas. While this may not directly address the shortage of skilled workers, it can optimize existing resources and create a more efficient work environment. Additionally, investing in the training of current employees to adapt to these technologies ensures a skilled and adaptable workforce.
It’s important to note that a comprehensive approach often involves a combination of these solutions. Collaboration between governments, educational institutions, industry leaders, and workers is key to implementing effective strategies that address the root causes of the skills shortage and create a sustainable, skilled workforce for the future.