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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 had an estimated annual revenue of $22.71 billion, adding $13.06 billion to the Australian economy in 2015–16. The sector employs over 31,000 across its sub-sectors:

  • Water catchment supply
  • Sewerage
  • Drainage services
  • Pipeline transport (water).

Vocational education and training (VET) 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 sector occupations is delivered under the NWP – National Water Training Package. For more information on ESI GenerationESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail and Gas sectors, please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the Water IRC's 2018 Skills Forecast.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

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 two years to 33,400 in 2018 and is projected to increase to around 36,700 by the year 2023.

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 10% of the workforce and is projected to increase by almost 5% by 2023. Civil Engineering Professionals are expected to see the largest growth in this sector, with employment levels projected to increase by over 13% by 2023, followed by Plumbers with an increase of over 11%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were almost 2,000 program enrolments during 2017 and fewer than 500 completions. Program enrolments have decreased by more than half since 2014 with completions also declining over the same period. Subject only enrolments in this sector have increased from 2016 to over 1,200 in 2017, which is back up to 2015 levels.

The majority of program enrolments during 2017 were in certificate III level qualifications. Qualifications were in the area of Water Industry Operations and Water Industry Treatment. The intended occupation for most of the enrolments were Waste Water or Water Plant Operator.

Almost three quarters of enrolments were at TAFE institutes and over one fifth at private training providers, with over half of the subjects for the training funded by government, and the rest domestic fee-for-service.

Under a third of students in 2017 resided in New South Wales or Queensland and around 10% in from Victoria, South Australia or Western Australia.

Apprentice and trainee commencements and completions have seen a continuous decrease since 2010. In 2017, there were 299 commencements, which was a slight increase from 2016. Completions peaked during 2011–12 and have declined steadily since to their lowest levels in 2017 with 183 completions. The majority of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported in Queensland (36%) followed by New South Wales (25%) and Western Australia (19%). The intended occupation for the apprentices and trainees training was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator.

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.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

According to the Water IRC's 2018 Skills Forecast the top priority skills required for the Water sector are:

  • Treatment / Processing
  • Operational
  • Maintenance / Servicing
  • Digital
  • SCADA Programming.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested generic skills by employers were communication, problem solving and computer literacy skills. The most advertised Water industry sector occupations were Other Miscellaneous Labourers, Other Stationary Plant Operators and Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers.  

The Water IRC Skills Forecast highlights a few challenges within the Water sector:

  • Automation: By utilising automated processes, water companies can find improved preventative maintenance and efficiencies, reducing costs, demand and pressures associated with reactive maintenance. The use of automation will however impact the retraining and up-skilling of the workforce to keep up with new technologies.
  • Inspections and surveying: New systems and tools to remotely monitor and assess water sites requires highly specialised skills with the current workforce needing further training to use new systems to their full capacity.
  • New technologies: Employees will require digital literacy and technological skills, including data analysis and data literacy, network security, and higher-order skills incorporating creative, critical thinking, problem-solving, and inter-personal communication skills, in the workforce. The industry will need to be able to adapt, and provide support to the existing workforce, by upskilling and retraining, to maximise productivity.
  • Climate change: The impacts of climate change will require the industry to proactively manage the water resources. They will need to ensure that the skills needs of the workforce are meeting the demands and challenges anticipated in the future to provide stable and reliable supply of water across Australia.

According to the Water IRC Skills Forecast, employers reported a skills shortage for the occupations of Water/Wastewater Treatment Operators, Educators, Trainers, and Assessors, Engineers, Managers and SCADA programmers. Reasons for this shortage included an aging workforce/staff retiring, wages considered too low, geographic location of the job vacancy, competition from other organisations and the cost and time to achieve the required qualification.

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.  

The Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater) biannual reports on workforce composition show that there have been some changes in Queensland over 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, 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 the 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 2018, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal.

  • by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, employment projections to May 2023
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2023
    • 7129 Other Stationary Plant Operators
    • 8211 Building and Plumbing Labourers
    • 2332 Civil Engineering Professionals
    • 3232 Metal Fitters and Machinists
    • 3341 Plumbers
    • 3411 Electricians.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), sex, state and territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 November 2018

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, 2000 to 2018, 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 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.
  • Water Industry Operations
    • NWP20107 - Certificate II in Water Operations
    • NWP20115 - Certificate II in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30107 - Certificate III in Water Operations
    • NWP30215 - Certificate III in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP40515 - Certificate IV in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30415 - Certificate III in Water Industry Irrigation
    • NWP40107 - Certificate IV in Water Operations
    • NWP50107 - Diploma of Water Operations
    • NWP50715 - Diploma of Water Industry Operations
  • Water Industry Treatment
    • NWP30315 - Certificate III in Water Industry Treatment
    • NWP40615 - Certificate IV in Water Industry Treatment.

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, 2017 program enrolments
  • 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 subject enrolments
  • 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 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 2017 commencements
  • 2010 to 2017 completions 
  • 2017 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's 2018 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2018, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2018,

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2015 and June 2018 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

  • Generic skills / Occupations
    • Machinery Operations and Drivers, Labourers, Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 28 Water Supply, Sewage and Drainage Services.
  • Employers
    • 8999 Other Miscellaneous Labourers
    • 7129 Other Stationary Plant Operators
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 7331 Truck Drivers
    • 3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services.
Updated: 16 Sep 2019
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