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Why water industry skills are likely to be in demand

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Teo De La Cruz
Posted on 29 Sep 2023 · 11 mins read

This blog looks at some of the potential upcoming investment in the UK water industry and analyses the impact this will have on skills demand in the coming years

The water industry has been hitting the headlines and facing pressure in the UK for an array of reasons in recent months. This focus has been driven by a combination of a growing population putting increasing strain on some of the country’s older infrastructure, along with climate change-related challenges driving up demand for water. Combined, this means that the sector is facing more scrutiny than ever before. A number of solutions have been mooted by groups across the water industry, but what would they mean for the sector as a whole and the demand for skills within it?

Water challenges

The water sector has been facing these challenges for some time, however many of the problems have been driven by factors outside of organisation’s control, like climate change.

As you will know, the UK has faced record temperatures in recent years which has led to drought and hosepipe bans across the country. It’s also resulted in an over-reliance on abstraction, — where companies take water from rivers and natural underground aquifers – which can only be balanced through investment in infrastructure. Further dry periods can lead to major problems, 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,” where several regions were at risk of water shortages after last year’s summer heatwave.

Barring any dramatic change in the climate this isn’t going to change, and the National Infrastructure Commission has already warned that at least 2.7bn litres of additional daily capacity will be needed by 2050 to keep the taps running during drought periods.

New investment

These factors combined have led to a stage where regional water suppliers are now seeking new sources of water. One of the leading proposals suggested is for a network of new pipes that would cover the entire country and would enable the movement of water supply from the north to areas that need it in the south. The proposals are currently being considered by the Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development with a decision likely to be made in the coming months.

There are also plans afoot for a series of new reservoirs, including one in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, that would relocate water from the Thames to other parts of the country, as well as a range of initiatives designed to curb leakage and improve efficiency. Currently, around one in five litres utilised in the UK is lost to leakage and this, along with more holistic efforts to get customers to conserve water more effectively, through tactics like introducing metering, are likely to be introduced.

There is however some scepticism towards the proposals, namely because projects of these types are highly capital-intensive and will likely require significant investment.

The Water Retailer Company is one organisation opposing them and believes that these large-scale projects should be parked in favour of smaller ones. They point to the £200m Thames Water desalination plant which hasn’t been used extensively since its launch, however, its owner argues that it was only designed to be used in drought conditions. However, such are the scale of the challenges facing water firms, it’s likely that at least some of the projects will be launched in the short to medium-term future. And if they are given the green light, what would this mean for professionals operating in the industry and demand for their skills?

Water industry skills

Our specialist Water by Murray team has already noted extensive demand for skills across the sector that has remained strong for some time, however the launch of schemes of this size would see professionals even more sought after in almost every field. These initiatives aren’t only capital intensive, but labour intensive too and talent in areas such as design, mechanical, project and civil engineering, to name just a few, would likely benefit from increased demand to help plan, scale and deliver the potentially game-changing projects.

In addition, professionals in a range of interconnected fields would also be needed just to help them get off the ground, with further skills in areas including site management, quantity surveying, construction and more needed throughout the development process. The mooted projects would likely have timelines lasting multiple years and would be delivered across the UK, meaning firms are likely to face some challenges in identifying and recruiting the talent they need to deliver at scale.

Regardless of the sentiment towards the potential – but likely – investment, there’s no doubt over the fact that the water industry is under the spotlight, and with firms battling against a combination of growing demand, ageing infrastructure and climate change, it’s probable that there will be more projects like these launched in the coming years. If your organisation is seeking skills, or if you’re a professional in the industry looking for a new role, then speak to our expert team to find out about all the latest opportunities that can enable you to develop your career.

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