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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 $23.56 billion, adding $14.15 billion to the Australian economy in 2018. The sector employs over 28,000 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 GenerationESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail and Gas sectors, please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast.

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

IRC and skills forecasts

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 37,000 in 2019 and is projected to increase to around 38,200 by the year 2024.

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 almost 10% by 2024. Civil Engineering Professionals are expected to see the largest growth in this sector, with employment levels projected to increase by nearly 22% by 2024, followed by Building and Plumbing Labourers with an increase of about 11%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were 1,880 program enrolments during 2018 and more than 650 completions. Program enrolments have steadily decreased since 2015 with completions also declining between 2015 and 2017 before slightly increasing in 2018. Subject only enrolments in this sector have almost doubled the level seen in 2015 and 2017.

The majority of program enrolments during 2018 were in certificate III level qualifications. Qualifications were in the area of Water Industry Operations and Water Industry Treatment. The intended occupation for most of the enrolments was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator.

Almost three quarters of enrolments were at TAFE institutes and over one fifth at private training providers, with more than 60% of the subjects for training funded by government, and the rest domestic fee-for-service. In 2018, almost 60% of students resided in New South Wales or Queensland and around 30% in Victoria, South Australia or Western Australia.

Approximately one third of training was delivered in Queensland (34%), followed by New South Wales (32%), Victoria (13%) and Western Australia (11%).

Apprentice and trainee commencements and completions have seen a continuous decrease between 2010 and 2016. In 2018 there were 320 commencements, which was a slight increase from 2016. Completions peaked during 2011 and 2012, declining steadily to their lowest levels in 2017 before increasing slightly in 2018. The majority of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported in Queensland (47%) followed by New South Wales (25%) and Tasmania (11%). The intended occupation for the apprentices and trainees training was Waste Water or Water Plant Operator.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, visit NCVER’s VET students by industry. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

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 computer literacy, planning and detail-oriented skills. The most advertised Water industry sector occupations were Other Miscellaneous Labourers, Other Stationary Plant Operators, Truck Drivers, Other Building and Engineering Technicians and Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers.  

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 Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater) Biannual Reports on workforce composition also identify a skills shortage for the occupations of Water and Wastewater Treatment Operators. The current report states trends towards increasing technology, community expectations, outsourcing contracts and legislative reform emphasise the need to address workforce challenges and ensure water industry personnel are appropriately skilled and experienced. Challenges include ageing, issues attracting and retaining staff, competition from other industries and general skills and labour shortages.

The State of the Water Sector Report 2015 published by the Australian Water Association discusses the increasing importance of digital technologies to drive improvements in operational efficiency and service delivery. The report also cited the need for improvements in efficiency within asset management, process and systems improvement, customer channels and operations management.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2018, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal.

  • by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, employment projections to May 2023
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2023
    • 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 2018, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), sex, state and territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 November 2018

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 digit Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, 2000 to 2018, 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
    • NWP30107 - Certificate III in Water Operations
    • NWP30215 - Certificate III in Water Industry Operations
    • NWP30415 - Certificate III in Water Industry Irrigation
    • NWP40107 - Certificate IV in Water 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:

  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 program enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 subject enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 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:

  • 2010 to 2018 commencements
  • 2010 to 2018 completions
  • 2018 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2018 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Water IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2019, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2019,

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2016 and June 2019 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
    • 7331 Truck Drivers
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 28 Water Supply.
Updated: 02 Apr 2020
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