The future of the Australian water sector is in the hands of its workforce | Ozwater

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The future of the Australian water sector is in the hands of its workforce

Posted 11 May 2018

Future of the water sector

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with about 90% of the population living in towns and cities.

Based on current projections, the population of Sydney Water’s area of operations is expected to exceed 8.5 million, an increase of 75%, by 2060.

According to Sydney Water Strategic Analytics Principal Analyst Marcia Dawson, rapid urbanisation will present both opportunities and risks for the water sector, and future livelihoods depends on the capacity to build and manage cities that will meet the needs of the future in a sustainable and resilient manner.

As Dawson told Ozwater’18 attendees, to successfully plan for sustainable, liveable and resilient cities, we need to accept that the future is both “uncertain and complex”.

“Water plays an important role in enhancing the liveability of cities through the integration of water-sensitive principles into city planning, delivering value through economic, social and environmental benefits,” she said.

“As planners of future water, wastewater and stormwater services, we are required to develop forecasts and projections about the future. What will be the demand for water over the next five, 15, 30, and 50 years and how will it be provided?”

In particular, Sydney Water’s focus is on:

· Economic benefits through infrastructure optimisation,

· Quality housing through water and drainage infrastructure,

· Community spaces such as wetlands and streams and, and

· Better governance coordination.

Dawson said utilities and other service or infrastructure providers need to acknowledge they are one component within a complex system.

“We are not able to control all factors influencing the future outcome and there are limitations on using past events and data to determine future possibilities,” she said.

While Dawson and Sydney Water are working to forecast future uncertainties that will prove to be impediments to produce deliverables for future populations, Queensland Urban Utilities has been honing in on inspiring our future workforces.

Queensland Urban Utilities Innovation Research and Development Manager Colin Chapman said harnessing workforce innovation is the key to ensuring future water and sewerage services were reliable for future generations.

“Through our Innovation, Research and Development Program, we are attracting new research partners, engaging with the community, inspiring high-school and university students to become part of the water industry and, subsequently, building the capacity and capability of our workforce,” he said.

Themes of the program include:

· Environmental leadership – setting new standards to outperform traditional regulatory regimes,

· Engaged customers – involved in the decision-making process,

· A motivated workforce,

· Commercial viability, and

· Balancing risk and opportunity.

In the most part, Queensland Urban Utilities has recognised an investment in its people to provide the best foundation for meeting community needs going forward and work towards this began to develop with its Innovation Precinct in 2014.

“The Innovation Precinct enables our employees and partnering organisations to look for smarter, more efficient ways to operate,” Chapman said.

“The precinct has enabled us to establish strong partnerships with universities, schools and members of organisations within the water industry to ensure a strong future workforce and capability to deliver on objectives.”

Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) Productivity and Performance Manager, Peter Gee, agreed that a focus on customer expectations is one of the key drivers of change in the water sector.

With millennials making up 50% of the workforce by 2020, the characteristics of this generation are different to those that have come before – with greater emphasis on personal development and work-life balance than financial reward.

This, combined with a greater number of the ageing Australians remaining in the workforce, means the diversity of our people will continue to grow.

WSAA commissioned KPMG to assist in determining how the water sector must respond to this changing world through a range of key industry trends, including:

·         Integrating customer insights into the business

·         Leveraging digital technologies to open up operations

·         Building IT infrastructure for customer-focused networks

·         Using data to predict trends and manage performance and 

·         Deploying more sophisticated customer-engagement techniques.

“In this time of unprecedented change, it is increasingly important to understand the potential impacts on the workforce and the skills required for the workforce of the future,” Gee said.

“If unaddressed, the water sector may be left with significant skill gaps. It may be unable to support clean and safe water and waste services at affordable prices. It may not keep up with changing customer needs.

“Without a strategic focus to workforce planning, the water sector may find its trust within the community is severely compromised.”

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