Water industry experts address the engineering skills gap

Amongst industry experts from the Environment Agency, OFWAT and key water companies, we recently partnered with CIWEM (Chartered Institution for Water and Environmental Management) to host a roundtable to discuss the skills shortage in the industry.

The focus of the roundtable event was to analyse the findings from a survey we jointly conducted with CIWEM, aimed at finding out the status of the water industry from the perspective of UK professional engineers and employers working within it.

The survey showed there is widespread concern for the future of the water industry, with 81% of employers seeing increased turnover and 70% saying that this has resulted in a reduced ability to finish projects. You can find the full results of the survey here.

Aside from analyzing the responses, the roundtable attendees discussed potential solutions for how to fill the skills gap and came up with a list of key recommendations to address the industry’s issues: 

Encourage engineers to build multiple skill sets

Engineers with multiple skill sets are beneficial across projects so the water sector must encourage the development of generalists and make it easier for engineers to move around their companies, in a similar way to graduates, to gain experience in a variety of areas.

Re-address the balance of technical engineers and project managers

Engineers within the water sector should have the option to develop technically rather than advancing into project management. The industry should review the salary, benefits and perceived status of a technical career, compared to project management and employers should offer a clear progression path for each career.

Provide clearer career and development plans

Furthermore, employers in the sector should provide employees with clear paths that account for aspirations and priorities of engineers at different stages of their lives. Employers should provide continuing professional development (CPD) post Chartership and holistic, transparent communications regarding next career steps.

Raise the profile of the water sector

Communicate to engineers why a career in water is worth pursuing to reignite people’s passion for the sector. As Terry Fuller, CIWEM CEO, explained, the industry is “not explaining why water is great”. The sector must collaborate to instil a sense of purpose and value for water engineering. Stuart Minchin, Divisional Manager for Water & Environment at Matchtech, shares why he believes a career in water is so rewarding:

“It could be argued that water is the most undervalued global resource, and with an ever increasing population it is crucial for wastewater to be dealt with effectively, and that we ensure high quality drinking water is supplied across the globe. The engineering side of the sector is rarely championed in what is an extremely innovative, exciting industry - one where engineers can work across the entire lifecycle of a project, as well as be involved with a number of engineering elements where people can work together to span all engineering disciplines. We need to promote and celebrate the excellence within the sector now more than ever, especially considering the widening skills gap and potential challenges Brexit may cause with a more strict policy around freedom of movement.”

Influence Government

The industry must highlight where Government can support to address skills shortages. Projects need to be able to access the best global talent to plug the gaps and an enquiry about the non-inclusion of water and environment on the Tier 2 Skills Shortage list was recommended.

Speaking after the event, Stuart Minchin, Water and Environment Divisional Manager at Matchtech, commented, “Our research of water engineers showed there is a real concern for the UK’s ability to finish water engineering projects, based on the current skills level. Convening this meeting with CIWEM has helped us and our fellow industry leaders to get a better understanding of the issues engineers are facing. As a result of this meeting, we have some very clear and actionable recommendations, which we believe will go some way to solving the skills issues the UK has.”

Terry Fuller, CEO at CIWEM, was optimistic about the outcome and said, “I think we have drawn together a number of realistic but robust recommendations for addressing the skills gap in our sector. I hope that we continue to gather as industry professionals to discuss these important issues and help solve the challenges of the future.”

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