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Elevate | How to get ahead in the water sector

yorkshire water

As part of New Civil Engineer’s careers week, called Elevate, we look at employment opportunities in the water sector.


Water companies across England and Wales were cleared to spend £44bn over the five-year asset management period that runs to 2020. The middle years are often the most bountiful of these periods as utility firms can find themselves at the peak of major capital projects.

Work is underway on major schemes around the UK, including Severn Trent Water’s £242M Birmingham Resilience project to allow improvements to the Elan Valley Aqueduct serving the West Midlands city with water from Wales.

Meanwhile flood defence works are also plentiful, with the government investing £2.6bn on 1,500 schemes between 2015 and 2021 to fight floods and erosion.

Traditional requirements

Chartered status is usually expected for senior level roles in the water industry. This can be achieved by taking a civil engineering degree or apprenticeship and then gaining the experience required in a junior position to pass a professional review.

Steve Feeley, director of membership recruitment at the Institution of Civil Engineers says the profile of the engineering technician route has been raised in recent years to make progression more accessible and inclusive.

“EngTech membership within the ICE alone has increased 62 per cent over two years,” he says. “With this pathway now aligned to apprenticeship frameworks, growth will likely continue.”

How the role is changing

As well as a strong grasp of the fundamental principles of engineering, working as an engineer in the water sector requires problem solving abilities and a proactive approach, according to careers organisation Prospects.

A flexible approach and good communications skills are also important to success in this career, as is a willingness to drive to sites and get wet – this is the water sector after all.

Digital skills will become ever more important to succeed in an industry that is measured on its success in managing a valuable and also dangerous resource. Millions of pounds have been set aside to stop excess water getting to some areas and ensure enough gets to others. Smart engineering will be the key to making this happen for the minimum cost, effort and risk.

Predicting the future

Dean Lenton, learning and development manager at the ICE, says a range of jobs will soon exist in the water sector that are as yet unknown.

“The way we procure equipment and resources, the way we work together, the way we build infrastructure – it will all change,” he says. “It will become more efficient.”

This will be driven by technology enabling smarter ways of working to meet new demands in a changing world.

Career prospects

Feeley says the flood relief sector has experienced “significant growth” in recent years.

Global warming is only likely to increase the challenges of keeping homes and businesses dry. Lenton points out that clever engineering will become ever more critical as the demand for projects increases and the country becomes “tighter for cash” post-Brexit.

Projects happen all around the UK, taking water from where it’s found to where it’s needed. Fluvial flood defence schemes take place inland alongside the obvious coastal projects.

There is plenty of scope to move up within an organisation and also to switch between the private and public sector, according to Prospects, which adds that water engineers can earn anything from £20,000 to more than three times that amount.


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