cancel
search
Search by IRC, Industry, sector, training package, IRC skills forecast or occupation.

Water

Overview

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 $22.68 billion, adding $11.38 billion to the Australian economy in 2019-20. The sector employs over 27,700 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.

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

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 three years to 36,900 in 2019, before declining to 30,100 in 2020 and increasing to 35,000 in 2021. The employment level is projected to increase to around 38,300 by the year 2025.

Other 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 more than 2% until 2025. Civil Engineering Professionals are expected to see the largest growth in this sector, with employment levels projected to increase by around 12% until 2025, followed by Plumbers and Building and Plumbing Labourers, each with an increase of about 8%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were roughly 1,780 program enrolments during 2020 and nearly 600 completions. Program enrolments have steadily decreased since 2016 with completions also declining overall between 2016 and 2020. The proportion of subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised program has remained fairly stable over the past five years, with 81% in 2016 and 83% in 2020.

The majority of program enrolments during 2020 were in certificate III level qualifications (79%). Qualifications were in the area of Water Industry Operations (58%) and Water Industry Treatment (42%). The intended occupation for most of the enrolments was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator (96%).

During 2020, 62% of enrolments were at TAFE institutes and 32% at private training providers, with the remainder of the training delivered by enterprise providers.. Nearly two thirds (65%) of all subjects were Commonwealth and state funded and around 35% were domestic fee for service.

In 2020, 32% of students resided in Queensland, followed by New South Wales (29%), Victoria (15%) and Western Australia (11%). Approximately 41% of training was delivered in Queensland, followed by New South Wales (30%), Victoria (13%) and Western Australia (9%).

Apprentice and trainee commencements declined between 2011 and 2016, but have gradually increased between 2016 and 2020 from approximately 260 to 510 respectively. Completions peaked during 2011 and 2012, declining steadily to their lowest levels in 2017 before increasing slightly between 2018 and 2020 from approximately 210 to 310 respectively. The intended occupation for the apprentices and trainees in training was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator. Queensland reported 32% of apprenticeship training in 2020, followed by Western Australia (29%) and New South Wales (22%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry group or training package, visit NCVER’s Data Builder.

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 planning skills. The most advertised Water industry sector occupations were Other Miscellaneous Labourers, Other Stationary Plant Operators and Other Building and Engineering Technicians. The top employers were Water Corporation WA, Veolia and SA Water.

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 (Annual Update) 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 the 2019 Black Summer bushfires.

The Water IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook continues the discussion on the trends identified in the Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast and Water IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast (Annual Update), including the changing workforce skills required due to digital innovation in the industry:

  • Data analytics - the collection of real-time data, the simulation and modelling of water networks, optimisation of operations, and predicting issues including supply and demand availability and the need for infrastructure upgrades. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies allows Intelligent Water Metering, Intelligent Asset Management and Operations, and Data Acquisition and Insights, and virtual reality (VR) is being used as a training tool.
  • Automation – Water leaks can be detected by optical sonar technology equipped with microphones, camera systems installed in sewers and drains can be used to locate blockages or damage, and visual inspections via CCTV used to accurately detect and prevent asset issues. Water samples are being collected and wastewater asset assessments are being conducted by robots.
  • Customer behaviour is being reshaped by online platforms, and the industry can predict issues before they affect customers using smart technologies. A growing social expectation that organisations should provide increased customer service requires a flexible workforce with skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and specialists who may create human-centred techniques such as design thinking, as well as digital skills when engagement is via digital platforms.

Additionally, the Industry Outlook highlights the following Water Industry workforce challenges that relate to training:

  • The ageing rate of the Water Industry workforce is 1.5 times faster than all industries, and around 36 per cent of workers are aged 50 or over. The industry needs to continue with balancing new entrants with technological skills with maintaining the corporate knowledge of the existing workers. Information on pathways will be included in the companion volume to the implementation guide of the training package (CVIG) to assist and identify job roles and careers in the Water Industry.
  • The increasing requirements and costs of maintaining accreditation has led to a shortage of training providers and individual trainers able to meet the training regulator, Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), requirements to deliver training from the NWP Training Package. The specialised nature of the training required means the development of training resources for the small cohorts of trainees, particularly in regional and remote areas, is extremely expensive and trainers who retire are often not replaced.
  • Open channel meters are required by legislation to be certified annually in New South Wales; however, it has been identified there is a shortage of certifiers which may impact water supplies in the state. The need to develop a new Unit of Competency and Skill Set so industry workers can become qualified will be investigated by the IRC.
  • New drain and pipe cleaning techniques, including flushing, air scouring, swabbing and ice pigging are being used to maintain the water infrastructure, and there is a growing use of high-pressure water blasting to clean drains and network infrastructure. The Water Network Maintenance Project Case for Change states optical cameras and other leak detection technologies are now regularly used in the water industry to monitor the condition of assets. The cameras have traditionally been owned and operated by contractors such as plumbers or specialist pipe repair companies, but with the decrease in cost of the equipment utilities companies have invested in the technology for their own workers to use. New units for using optical vision technology in the field, maintaining network assets using high pressure water systems, cleaning water mains using air scouring or swabbing technique, and flushing water distribution systems are proposed by the IRC to ensure workers can access training to perform these tasks safely.
  • The runoff from floods can contaminate fresh drinking water and endanger people’s health. The Flood Site Operations Project Case for Change states a recommendation from the 2011 flood inquiry was for flood warning sites to be operated at a higher and more consistent standard. Effective flood management at a higher level of skills and maintenance of equipment, maintaining power to the site, cleaning and clearing vegetation and ensuring data collected and documented and passed on to the relevant database or industry body is required. A new unit of competency and skill set is proposed to enable consistent operational practices nationally.

Several articles published by the Australian Water Association highlight the digital transformation of the Water Industry. Smart data gives real-time warning to support wastewater treatment discusses a real-time process early warning system that uses online measurements and smart data analytics to support wastewater treatment plant operations developed by University of South Australia researchers, and How smart tech boosts a utility's performance discusses the use IoT technology. While the water industry has connected critical assets to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for real-time monitoring and control over aspects of a network for a substantial amount of time, the costs of these systems are usually in the tens of thousands of dollars. IoT devices are significantly cheaper, providing an opportunity to expand the collection of data and for cross collaboration of data from different industries to generate further insights.

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 qldwater Water Industry Training Needs Business Case details several issues the Water Industry has identified in training their workforce relating to gaining the appropriate certification and government funding. The industry is highly regulated with oversight by a number of state and commonwealth agencies which require workers to be appropriately qualified to operate the facilities. Analysis shows more than 11 units of competency is required for new entrants aligning their training towards certification requirements, and an existing operator with an older qualification may have 2 to 12 gaps, requiring the operator to enrol in additional units from the NWP Training Package. Certificate II and III level water industry qualifications currently receive priority one funding under the Queensland User Choice program, which allows regional water service providers with limited training budgets to ensure those in high-risk job roles are appropriately trained and skilled. Supervisory and management skills have been identified as a key skills gap, however employers consider the higher level skills subsidies that apply to the certificate IV and diploma levels are too low and present a barrier to enrolments. 

The 2020 Queensland Urban Water Industry Workforce Composition Snapshot Report summarises feedback from their survey of Queensland Water Industry skills shortages. Shortages in civil construction and maintenance workers, plumbing trades and engineering professionals and paraprofessionals may be due to competition from more attractive industries. The job role of treatment plant supervisor has a significant ageing profile, with a large cohort approaching retirement, and organisations have programs in place to address the issue. The shortage of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators is an ongoing concern, and it is increasingly difficult to source and attract people with current qualifications. Some organisations have had success with recruiting and retaining older workers with other trade experience. The Skills Priority List includes Waste Water or Water Plant Operator under occupations not in national shortage, with moderate future demand. Metal Machinist (First Class) and Plumber (General) are included under occupations in national shortage, with moderate future demand. Occupations in national shortage, with strong future demand include Electrician (General), Electrician (Special Class), Electrical Engineer, and Civil Engineer.

Links and resources

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

IRC and skills forecasts

Water IRC

 

Relevant research

2020 Queensland Urban Water Industry Workforce Composition Snapshot Report – qldwater

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

Bushfire Impacts on Water Quality – New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA)

Flood Site Operations Project Case for Change – Australian Industry Standards

How smart tech boosts a utility's performance – Elle Hardy

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

qldwater consolidated submission to DESBT – qldwater

Smart data gives real-time warning to support wastewater treatment – Cecilia Harris

The 2020 Queensland Urban Water Industry Workforce Composition Snapshot Report – qld water

Water Network Maintenance Project Case for Change – Australian Industry Standards

 

Industry associations and advisory bodies

Australian Hydrographers Association

Australian Water Association

Industry Skills Advisory Council NT

NSW Utilities and Electrotechnology Industry Training Advisory Board (UENSW)

Pump Industry Australia

Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

Utilities, Engineering, Electrical and Automotive Training Council - WA

VicWater

Water Directorate - NSW

Water Industry Operators Association of Australia

Water Research Australia

Water Services Association of Australia

 

Employee associations

Australian Services Union

The Australian Workers’ Union

United Services Union

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2021, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, employment projections to May 2025.
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2025
    • 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 2021, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ06 - Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), Sex, State and Territory, November 1984 onwards, viewed 1 August 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2021

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 digit '28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry', 2001 to 2021, 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
    • NWP20119 - Certificate II in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30107 - Certificate III in Water Operations
    • NWP30215 - Certificate III in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30219 - Certificate III in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30415 - Certificate III in Water Industry Irrigation
    • NWP40107 - Certificate IV in Water Operations
    • NWP40120 - Certificate IV in Water Industry 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:

  • 2016 to 2020 program enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 subject enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 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:

  • 2011 to 2020 commencements
  • 2011 to 2020 completions
  • apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2020 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

 

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 2021, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2018 and June 2021 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
    •  3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 3411 Electricians
    • 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services.
Updated: 21 Jan 2022
To Top