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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 $23.56 billion, adding $14.15 billion to the Australian economy in 2018. The sector employs over 28,000 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 Generation, ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail and Gas sectors, please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast and the Water IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast (abridged annual update).

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

IRC and skills forecasts

IRCs now submit comprehensive Skills Forecasts to the AISC every 3 years, with abridged annual updates submitted in the intervening 2 years.

Water IRC

Employment trends

Please note: any employment projections outlined below were calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics prior to COVID-19.

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 three years to 36,800 in 2019, before declining to 30,100 in 2020 and is projected to increase to around 38,200 by the year 2024.

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 10% in the next four years. Civil Engineering Professionals are expected to see the largest growth in this sector, with employment levels projected to increase by nearly 22% in the next four years, followed by Building and Plumbing Labourers with an increase of about 11%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were roughly 1,870 program enrolments during 2019 and nearly 660 completions. Program enrolments have steadily decreased since 2015 with completions also declining overall between 2015 and 2019. The proportion of subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised program has remained fairly stable over the past five years, with 81% in 2015 and 80% in 2019. The majority of program enrolments during 2019 were in certificate III level qualifications (78%). Qualifications were in the area of Water Industry Operations (57%) and Water Industry Treatment (43%). The intended occupation for most of the enrolments was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator (95%).

Sixty-eight per cent of enrolments were at TAFE institutes and 26% at private training providers, with 60% of the subjects for training Commonwealth and state funded, and the rest domestic fee for service (40%) and international fee for service (less than 1%). In 2019, 33% of students resided in Queensland, followed by New South Wales (27%), Victoria (17%) and Western Australia (9%).

Approximately 38% of training was delivered in Queensland, followed by New South Wales (29%), Victoria (16%) and Western Australia (9%).

Apprentice and trainee commencements have seen a continuous decrease between 2010 and 2016, but have gradually increased between 2016 and 2019 (approximately 260 and 340 respectively). Completions peaked during 2011 and 2012, declining steadily to their lowest levels in 2017 before increasing slightly in 2018 and 2019 (approximately 210 and 270 respectively). The majority of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported in Queensland (54%) followed by New South Wales (29%) and Western Australia (9%). The intended occupation for the apprentices and trainees in 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. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region, visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

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

The Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast states the top priority skills required for the Water sector are health and safety, operational skills and digital skills. The top priority industry and occupation skills include treatment/processing and maintenance/servicing.

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 Building and Engineering Technicians and Other Stationary Plant Operators. The top employers were Veolia, SA Water and Water NSW.

The top generic skills listed in the Water IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast in order of importance to the industry are:

  • Technology
  • Language, literacy and numeracy (LLN)
  • Managerial / Leadership
  • Learning agility / Information literacy / Intellectual autonomy and self-management
  • Science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) skills.

Opportunities and challenges within the Water sector highlighted in the Water IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast include:

  • Technology: The water industry is adopting new technologies and innovative approaches towards the treatment of water, water catchment, and asset management. These changes continue to have far-reaching effects on the way water is delivered and the industry skills required by the workforce. Retraining and upskilling will be needed to ensure the workforce stays abreast with emerging technologies, maintaining asset management, and improving water utility efficiency.
  • Automation: The rapid onset of automation in the water industry is anticipated to have a significant impact on the industry and skilling requirements of the current and future workforce. These new systems and remote operations require highly specialised skills to monitor, diagnose, and interpret large volumes of data to determine faults and identify areas for investigation. Addressing this emerging skills deficit within the VET skills framework is considered a critical industry priority.
  • Skill Sets: The water sector is moving towards micro learning to improve knowledge gaps. A common theme from stakeholders was the need for shorter training and a Skill Set can offer a worker the opportunity to move between different sectors of the water industry or to other worksites that use different technology to perform the same skill.

According to the Water IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast, employers reported a skills shortage for the occupations of Water/Wastewater Treatment Operators, Maintenance, Engineers, Water Quality Management and Managers. Reasons for this shortage included wages considered too low, competition from other organisations, geographic location of the job vacancy, an ageing workforce/staff retiring and unattractive job/poor industry image.

The Water IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast details four industry workforce, skills developments or trends that are priorities for the Water Industry over the next year:

  • Digital Technologies and Automation – the Water industry will be focussing on digital skill sets and away from manual and procedural modes of work to skill the workforce to take advantage of innovations that enable: forecasting the behaviour of the water network; tracing water quality evolution; predicting and locating leaks in the system; reducing energy costs; and underground monitoring.
  • Industry-specific cyber-security – increasing use of smart meters, Advanced Metering Infrastructures (AMIs), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems also increases cyber security risk and the need to develop on industry specific cyber security training program to give the workforce the ability to understand the nature of cyberattacks and how to resolve them.
  • Water literacy – the Water industry will need to strengthen skills in community engagement, advocacy and education to play an active role in water management issues and raise consumer awareness which could assist in the introduction of water-saving initiatives and controlling risks and business continuity.
  • Fire retardants and water contamination – Water industry workers will need to be sufficiently skilled to manage and ameliorate contamination of water catchments and river systems caused by chemical residues, ash and charcoal from recent bushfires.

The research published on projects conducted within the Water industry support the technological trends discussed in the skills forecasts. The Machine Learning conference papers presented at Ozwater'19 provide four examples of projects where the Water industry is exploring the use of data including historical failure records, asset information, SCADA data, billing information and rainfall to improve systems, operations and customer experience by predicting sewer blockages/overflows, water bursts/leaks, water quality, customer contact and pump efficiencies. An article published in the Water e-Journal discusses an Internet of Things Proof of Value conducted by Sydney Water to also detect water and sewer problems, and support digital metering. The State of the Water Sector Report 2015 published by the Australian Water Association discussed 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.

The size and intensity of the bushfires experienced in Australia over the 2019-2020 summer emphasised the need for many industries to be prepared for the impact these events can have. The Water Services Association of Australia has published guidelines to assist the Australian Water Industry plan for and recover from bushfire emergencies. Water Research Australia released a factsheet highlighting the ways water quality can be comprised by bushfire in drinking water catchments, suggesting priorities of concern for managers of water quality. The New South Wales Government Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also released a factsheet providing information on contaminants that can affect water quality after a bushfire and what can be done to minimise the impacts

The Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater) Biannual Reports on workforce composition identify a skills shortage for the occupations of Water and Wastewater Treatment Operators. The current report states trends towards increasing technology, community expectations, outsourcing contracts and legislative reform emphasise the need to address workforce challenges and ensure water industry personnel are appropriately skilled and experienced. Challenges include ageing, issues attracting and retaining staff, competition from other industries and general skills and labour shortages. These challenges are reiterated in qldwater’s Submission to Productivity Commission Review of Skills and Workforce Development. The submission also discusses the challenges created by the rapid rate of change in technology in the Water industry, including: an ageing workforce with limited previous exposure to technology increasingly required to use mobile devices for the remote operation of treatment plants; and the lag between the adoption of proprietary technology, the training becoming a generic requirement and it being incorporated into the training package. There is also a growing issue in registered training organisations being able to meet the increasing demand for water operations training. A recent survey suggests 70% of members would support the introduction of micro-credentials to supplement existing accredited training.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

Relevant research

Bushfires and the Risks to Drinking Water Quality (January 2020) – Arran Canning, Dan Deere1 and Kelly Hill

IoT as a Digital Enabler of a Hyper-Connected Water Utility – C. Prackwieser, D. Cash and M. Wassell

National Good Practice Operational Guidelines for Bushfire Management for the Australian Water Industry – Water Services Association of Australia

Occupational Profile of the Water Industry Workforce in NSW Local Government – NSW Water Directorate

OzWater’19 Conference Papers: Machine Learning – Australian Water Association

State of the Water Sector Report 2015 – Australian Water Association

Submission to Productivity Commission Review of Skills and Workforce Development – Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

The 2018 Queensland Urban Water Industry Workforce Composition Snapshot – Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

Value of Operator Competency – Sallyanne Bartlett


Industry associations and advisory bodies

Australian Hydrographers Association

Australian Water Association

Industry Skills Advisory Council NT

NSW Utilities and Electrotechnology Industry Training Advisory Board

Pump Industry Australia

Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

Utilities, Engineering, Electrical and Automotive Training Council - WA


Water Directorate - NSW

Water Industry Operators Association of Australia

Water Research Australia

Water Services Association of Australia


Employee associations

Australian Services Union

Australian Workers Union

United Services Union

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2020, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, employment projections to May 2024
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2024
    • 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 2020, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), sex, state and territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 August 2020

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, 2000 to 2020, 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
    • NWP30415 - Certificate III in Water Industry Irrigation
    • NWP40107 - Certificate IV in Water Operations
    • NWP40515 - Certificate IV in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP50107 - Diploma of Water Operations
    • NWP50118 - Diploma of Water Industry 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:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 subject enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 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 2019 commencements
  • 2010 to 2019 completions 
  • 2019 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2019 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2020, Labor Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2020,

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2017 and June 2020 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
    • 7331 Truck Drivers
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services.
Updated: 30 Oct 2020
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