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UK Water industry recruitment overview

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Bradley Haworth
Posted on 26 Oct 2023 · 10 mins read

This blog looks in detail at the UK water industry and how market forces could shift hiring trends over the coming months as increasing pressure is placed on businesses to upgrade water networks

The water sector in the UK has hit the headlines in the past few months for largely negative reasons, however, the field plays an obviously vital role worldwide, meaning that the recruitment of the right skills is of paramount importance. But what are the latest trends in water industry recruitment and what do they mean for professionals and organisations operating in this sector?

Water industry recruitment market trends

The UK’s water sector is essential to virtually every facet of life. It provides water to 50 million household and non-household consumers every day – employing around 127,000 people in the process. However, the industry has faced a significant amount of negative pressure, not least because of an alleged lack of efficiency.

According to the latest estimates, UK water companies lose an average of 2,923.8 million litres of water per day – equating to 1.06 trillion litres over a year. Companies have reduced leakages by 6% in the last year, but there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly in light of the ongoing climate crisis.

Demand is growing for more sustainable systems and networks and these issues will have to be addressed. A major challenge in the UK specifically is that much of the existing infrastructure was developed during the Victorian era and is ageing at the same speed, meaning firms are essentially patching together areas of the network in order to stagger redevelopment programmes and avoid placing undue pressure on current facilities.

Major projects of huge scale will be required to ensure that national distribution systems adapt to reduced levels of waste and to guarantee that users across the UK can reliably access clean water. Improving the quality of this infrastructure is key for the network and is probably the biggest challenge for organisations at the moment as well as being their number one priority. This major investment will naturally lead to the hiring of greater numbers of engineers who can bolster the network.

An unpredictable future

It’s no secret that attempting to manage the climate is only going to become more challenging. This has been highlighted by the recent ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ floods seen in northeastern Scotland in October following Storm Babet. However, these events are likely to become more common, meaning firms are having to prepare for ‘once-in-a-decade’ or ‘once-in-a-century’ events on a much more regular basis and will need to boost flood capacity accordingly.


The UK water industry is also looking to a more sustainable future. One such example is the use of water for other applications. Kimberly Kupiecki, senior director at Ginko Bioworks, which uses genetic engineering to produce bacteria for industrial applications, said: 

“There is incredible potential to apply synthetic biology to augment existing solutions, such as turning wastewater into valuable products, dewatering sludge more effectively, and leveraging biosensors to quickly identify contaminants. Organic waste is another untapped resource. With the right biological and process application, it can be economically upcycled into saleable materials, as well as generate bioenergy. Recovery of rare earth minerals from industrial wastewater, including mining and oil and gas operations, is another example.”

The adoption of these methods will require water industry recruitment to switch up a level, with firms seeking more skills from professionals in STEM-related fields like microbiology, and many others. While the race to Net Zero has de-intensified somewhat following the government dropping its 2030 Net Zero targets, that could shift again with potential political changes approaching in the coming year and, with that, likely a renewed focus on reducing carbon emissions, if the recent party conferences are to be believed at least.

Major projects

Upgrades to the existing network will have to take place on an incremental basis. However, within this programme of change a number of major projects are planned that will have an impact on water industry recruitment.

We outlined some of these projects in a recent blog, but with the interim boss of Thames Water, Cathryn Ross, warning that “London has just three and a half weeks of water storage” and that “We were running into some serious issues with water supplies last year,” they will need to be launched in the not-too-distant future to avoid a potentially catastrophic situation.

One such project is for a network of new water pipes that would zigzag across the entire country and enable the movement of water from higher, northern areas to the more drought-prone south. There are also major plans for a series of new reservoirs, including one in Oxfordshire that would enable water from the Thames to be moved more efficiently to other parts of the country. These programmes are likely to kickstart significant hiring activity and firms will be seeking not only water industry-specific skills but also expertise in areas like project management, construction, engineering and more. As well as the aforementioned growth in demand for areas including microbiology, employers are also likely to be seeking climate change and sustainability expertise, of which there is a limited amount in the current market, which could lead to the war for talent intensifying within the water industry.

The future of water industry recruitment

It would be naïve to suggest that the UK doesn’t have a challenging few years ahead of it as it navigates multiple concurrent water-related issues, however for professionals operating within the sector and its associated fields, this could lead to new opportunities being opened up. If you’re looking for your next water-based role, or you are an employer seeking skills to manage this growing demand, then get in touch with our expert team.

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