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This page provides information and data on the Water industry sector, which is one component of the Utilities industry.

The Water sector in Australia has an estimated annual revenue of $22.2 billion, adding $12.8 billion to the Australian economy in 2015–16. The sector employs nearly 31,000 across its sub-sectors:

  • water supply
  • sewerage
  • drainage services
  • pipeline transport (water).

Vocational education and training is required for occupations involved in:

  • water industry operations (generalist, treatment, networks, source, irrigation, hydrography, trade waste)
  • treatment (drinking water, waste water) 
  • irrigation.

Nationally recognised training for Water is delivered under the NWP – National Water Training Package

For more information on ESI – Generation, ESI – Transmission, Distribution and Rail and Gas sectors, please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the Water Industry Reference Committee Skills Forecast 2017.

IRC and skills forecasts

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

The Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry sector employment level reached a peak of 44,200 during 2012 before declining until 2016. The employment level increased the following year (2017) to 29,400; however, it is projected to decline to around 27,300 by the year 2022.

Stationary Plant Operators, for which VET is the main source of training, is one of the largest employing occupations in the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry sector, making up approximately 10% of the workforce. However, it is an occupation where employment is expected to decrease over the next 5 years until 2022.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were approximately 2,000 program enrolments during 2016 and just fewer than 700 completions. Program enrolments decreased by more than half between 2014 and 2016 with completions also declining over the same period but not to the same degree as enrolments. The majority of program enrolments during 2016 were in certificate III level qualifications.

About two thirds of enrolments were at TAFE, with around half of training funded by government, and most of the rest fee-for service.

Approximately a third of students enrolled in training during 2016 were from New South Wales and over a quarter were from Queensland.

Apprentice and trainee commencements increased over the decade from 2000 until 2010; however, there has been a sharp decrease since then. Completions peaked during 2011–2012 and have declined steadily since. Most apprentices are training towards the intended occupation of Waste Water or Water Plant Operators.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, visit NCVER’s VET students by industry.

For more data specific to your region, visit NCVER’s Atlas of total VET. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

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Industry insights

Infographic title: Priority skills: 2017 skills forecast,, Infographic data,, Title: Top priority skills,, treatment, organisation / planning, supply, risk management, catchment / dam management,, Title: Top generic skills,, managerial / leadership, science technology engineering mathematics (stem), design mindset / thinking critically / system thinking / solving problems, customer service / marketing, environmental and sustainability,, Infographic title: Skills and occupations in demand: job vacancies,, Title: Top 5 occupations,, waste water or water plant operator, technicians and trades workers (miscellaneous), truck driver, fitter, machine operators (other), Title: Top 5 employers,, Veolia, South Australia Water Corporation, Melbourne Water, Seqwater, Integra Water Treatment Solutions,, Title: Top 5 locations,, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia,, Infographic source, Priority skills source: Water Industry Reference Committee Skills Forecast 2017, Job vacancy occupations in demand source: Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight Real Time Labor Market Information tool

Industry insights on skills needs

According to the Water IRC Skills Forecast the top priority skills required for the Water sector are:

  • treatment
  • organisational/planning
  • supply
  • risk management
  • catchment/dam management.

According to job advertisements, the top advertised VET-related occupation (Technicians and Trades Workers and Machinery Operators and Drivers) in demand in the Water industry sector is Waste Water or Water Plant Operators, and the top location for advertised VET-related occupations is Queensland.

The Water IRC Skills Forecast highlights concerns within the Water sector that it has been under-counted in the census and the collection of more accurate employment and occupation data is seen as important. There has been considerable effort in the sector to identify the size of the water sector workforce so that employees can be more appropriately coded and counted in future censuses.

Skills needs and workforce development did not come up as specific priority areas in the State of the Water Sector Report 2015 published by the Australian Water Association. However, the report does discuss the increasing importance of digital technologies to drive improvements in operational efficiency and service delivery. The report also cited the need for improvements in efficiency within asset management, process and systems improvement, customer channels and operations management. However, it is not explicit in the report which skills are required to ensure the workforce can implement digital technologies to drive improvements in efficiency.  

A 2015 report by the NSW Water Directorate presents the findings and recommendations from research conducted for the Water Directorate on the occupational profile and training needs of employees in local government water utilities in NSW. The report found that there is substantial demand for training and there is considerable interest in utilising a training brokerage service to facilitate training.

In Queensland, the Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater) biannual reports on workforce composition show that there have been some changes in recent years. Operational roles (including trades) appear to show a decrease in the number of operations and trades staff over a six year period. However, this may reflect a trend towards outsourcing as opposed to a reduction in the need for these job roles. Anecdotal evidence supports a trend towards greater contracting of civil, plumbing, and mechanical and electrical maintenance activities in particular.

The reports identify potential trends in the water sector such as:

  • changing job roles
  • an aging employee profile
  • continuing male-dominated roles such as trades and operations
  • increasing outsourcing trends (a change to the way necessary skills are accessed).

The reports demonstrate the need for the sector to look at workforce trends and proactive options to ensure that current and future workforce challenges are addressed, including:

  • the need to focus on ensuring that entry level recruitment options are supported to enable younger workers to enter the workforce
  • promoting the uptake of mentoring opportunities to ensure that skills and knowledge can be passed down from experienced workers
  • focussing on attraction and retention of female workers, particularly in the male-dominated job roles
  • the need to investigate the impact of outsourcing which is becoming more pressing and investigating options for ensuring that internal staff are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to effectively manage contractors.

Looking at generic skills, South Australia’s Training and Skills Commission report to the Government on Industry Priority Qualifications in 2016 found that for the Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services industry sector, the Work and Safety skills cluster was ranked by survey respondents as having the highest importance, followed by Sustainability and Environment and then  the Information and Technology Skills cluster. These findings are not dissimilar to the top generic skills identified by the Water IRC Skills Forecast, which are Technology, Managerial/Leadership and Environmental and Sustainability.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment, 2017, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal.

  • by ANZSIC 2 digit 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, employment projections to May 2022
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations , employment projections to May 2022
    • 7129 Other Stationary Plant Operators
    • 3114 Science Technicians.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), sex, state and territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 September 2017 <>

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 digit 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, 2000 to 2017, May Quarter.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census – employment, income and unpaid work, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

  • Employment level by 2 digit 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, and 4 digit level occupations to identify the relevant VET-related occupations in the industry as a proportion of the total workforce.                                                                                                                                              

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • NWP – National Water Training Package.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2014, 2015, 2016 program enrolments
  • 2014, 2015, 2016 subject enrolments
  • 2014, 2015, 2016 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

NWP – National Water Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2016 commencements
  • 2010 to 2016 completions 
  • 2016 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2016 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Water IRC Skills Forecast.

Burning Glass Technologies: Labour insight – real-time labour market information tool <> 2017.

  • Job advertisements from all of Australia from January 2014 to August 2017 are included in the analysis. Data shown is the top five advertised VET-related occupations (1–6 digit level Technicians and Trades Workers, Labourers, and Machinery Operators and Drivers) in the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry and the top five locations and employers according to job advertisements.
Updated: 11 Oct 2018
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