It may be the month of love but for the water sector, it seems there is a distinct lack of romance. In our recent survey of over 100 engineering professionals in the water and environment sector, only 1 in 5 think the sector has a better reputation than it did 12 months ago. A lack of prestige of jobs in Water was also recognised as a threat to the growth of the sector by a third of engineers.

Stuart Minchin, Divisional Manager - Water & Environment, Matchtech, comments on these findings:

“It’s a real shame that those working in the industry think the sector is held in lower regard than it was a year ago. However, these reputational challenges are not exclusive to the water sector – our research shows that the majority of engineers across the industry feel the same. As an industry, we need to celebrate the achievements being made in engineering and promote the positive impact the profession has on our everyday lives.”

“Without the work of engineers within the water sector, our access to high quality drinking water would be severely limited and a lack of effective waste management would cause major implications to the nation’s health.”

One factor which could be influencing perceptions within the sector is pay. Whilst two thirds of engineers working in Water said they had received a pay increase in the last year (62%), only a third are confident in receiving one in the next 12 months. The research also showed that ‘good pay and benefits’ is the most attractive attribute of a new employer and in reverse, non-competitive pay and benefits is the main reason those working in water would consider leaving their current employer.

Transformational technology & a shift in skills

The main reason attributed to the decline in reputation is a lack of technological advancements. Whilst previous AMP cycles haven’t seen heavy investment in technology, AMP 6 and the forthcoming AMP 7 will see an increasing dependency on technology, as Stuart Minchin explains:

"In AMP 6, for the first time we have seen an IT company become one of a handful of companies forming an alliance to lead a major project. This highlights the shift in skills that the water sector now needs to fully modernise legacy systems, from operational technology to information technology. This includes a rise in demand for system integration engineers with PLC and SCADA experience, as the facilities become more automated and move into more cyber physical systems."

Job opportunities and career progression

Despite the negative perceptions of the sector’s reputation, engineers working in Water are confident that the sector will grow over the coming 12 months and over half believe the organisation they work for will look to recruit in that time. Confidence in career progression is also high with over half of those working in Water confident about their career progression over the coming 12 months, compared to just 14% saying they were not.

Stuart Minchin shares his thoughts on sector trends and skills over the next 12 months:

“With year 3 of the AMP due to start in April the sector will naturally see an upturn in site-based projects across the UK. However, due to the introduction of totex, we anticipate the steady demand for design work to continue.”

However, in that time the sector will continue to face a number of challenges, primarily a severe skills shortage. The extent of the skills shortage within Water was recognised by 84% of our survey respondents, most of whom thought the lack of skills was at a manager level, as opposed to apprentices, graduates or skilled trades.

So it seems the passion remains for many engineers working in Water, who feel confident in their career development opportunities. Indeed, the skills shortage could even speed up their career progression. However, the sector will need to continue raising the profile of the jobs and projects within it to ensure the love for Water is ignited in engineers working in other sectors and any young people considering a career in the profession.

To view available jobs in water, visit our jobs pages.

To see more findings from our survey, please visit our Voice of the Workforce research hub.

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