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3 key takeaways from the 2017 Water Industry Asset Management Conference
The recent Water Industry Asset Management Conference brought together close to 200 industry representatives to discuss the current and future state of the water industry. Matchtech’s Stuart Minchin, Director – Water & Environment, was there to soak it all in. Below, he summarises the main points he took away and what it means for jobs in water.
1. The customer is king
Customer service was one of four main themes at this year’s event. Over the past 15-20 years there has been a huge shift towards adopting a customer-centric approach and as we head towards PR19, Ofwat wants to ensure utility companies are doing all they can to improve the customer experience and make services more affordable.
By planning more confidently for the long-term, utility companies can create cheaper plants, reduce the carbon footprint and lower their overheads, passing on that cost saving to their customers.
2. Long-term challenges remain a priority
Resilience was another key theme at the conference and again, this topic was talked about in reference to future-proofing the industry by having the right tools and skills in place to address the ongoing challenges of draught, flooding and coastal erosion.
A big part of solving these problems is by prioritising risk so that resources can be targeted on the most pressing issues. This involves assessing the state of our assets and taking action to preserve and protect our existing water systems for the future, at the same time as creating new systems which are sustainable and built with the customer in mind. Today, treatment plants are under increasing pressure to cater for the needs of an ever increasing population, which could reach almost 80 million by 2039, and accommodate these needs in an environmentally-conscious and sustainable way.
Innovation was another key word of the day and numerous speakers highlighted the need for the sector to innovate more, particularly in comparison to other engineering sectors like automotive and aerospace which are built on technology.
3. Water jobs today & skills for the future
One major issue which was noticeably absent from the agenda was skills, or more specifically, skill shortages. This is something which I and Matchtech as a whole, have frequently drawn attention to in the trade press, on our website and in conversations with our clients in the water industry.
Findings from our Voice of the Workforce research demonstrate the extent of the challenges the current workforce presents. The research, based on survey responses from over 2,500 engineering professionals around the world, found that over 80% of those who work in the water sector believe there is a skills shortage. We see the biggest imbalance of supply and demand in fields such as design and construction.
On a related note, around a third recognised the ageing workforce as the greatest threat to the future growth of the water industry, with just under two thirds saying they had not received any communication from the company they work for about the steps it is taking to address the ageing workforce. In an already skills-short industry, this is an issue which cannot be ignored.
Without a more diverse mix of talent in the industry, it will be difficult for true innovation to take place. The water industry needs a mixture of experience and young talent to move the sector forward and it’s the hiring employers within water who have the power to make this happen. Bringing in skills from other sectors will also help to drive innovation in water and achieve the forward-thinking sector that Ofwat is campaigning for. As an industry, we need to look to other sectors for inspiration – something which was recognised within the presentations.
The UK water sector is at the brink of some very exciting times ahead. What was clear at the conference was the level of passion and enthusiasm people have towards achieving improved asset management, creating an enhanced customer experience and finding a way to continuously embrace new technology. However, an acknowledgement of skills shortages and openness to seeking skills from other sectors is needed before the idyllic water sector of tomorrow can become a reality.
View more results from the Voice of the Workforce research here.
See the latest jobs in water.