Sector Workforce Capability


The three waters sector has an aging workforce, limited succession planning and is struggling to recruit and retain sufficient experienced and skilled staff. This is affecting service provision in some places.In general, the sector is not as attractive or competitive as other sectors that compete for similar skill sets. New technologies, tougher standards and higher community expectations mean that sector good practice will likely look very different in the future. Some organisations are tackling these issues and there is an opportunity to share these learnings through greater industry collaboration.

The Havelock North Inquiry has led to greater expectations in the industry for more formal recognition of workforce capability such as qualifications and proof of experience. However, the sector has not provided the leadership required to ensure its own education and training needs are catered for. Its collective ‘body of knowledge’ is not being utilised well and learning within the water sector is uncoordinated.

A project to develop a strategy and plan of action for resolving these challenges has commenced. A Reference Group has been established to provide overall direction for the project. The Reference Group includes representatives from the Water Industry Operators Group (WIOG), council three waters management roles, council controlled organisations, contracting companies, suppliers as well as education and training institutes.

Purpose of the Strategy 

There is not a shared view amongst the sector about how to solve these problems. It is well known that sector resources are limited and under pressure and there is little coordination. The strategy therefore needs to be action focussed, rather than simply set high level direction.

The purpose of the strategy is to:

  • Get sector agreement on effective and affordable actions to resolve the problems
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities for delivering actions and
  • Provide a framework for monitoring, assessing and reviewing progress.

Project Outline 

The phases of work will be:

  1. Gathering base evidence
  2. Developing the draft strategy
  3. Refining the strategy with the sector and obtaining commitment to it
  4. Implementing the strategy and
  5. Reviewing progress.

The diagram below illustrates how the outputs from the first two phases of work will be used to develop the draft strategy. The draft outcomes and goals will be refined over time (feedback is welcomed).  

Scope of the Strategy

The Reference Group agreed the following roles are in scope: 

  • Treatment plant operators
  • Reticulation network operators
  • Trade waste roles
  • Asset management information roles
  • Contract and project management roles
  • Territorial authority compliance officers
  • Engineering professionals providing advice on three waters infrastructure
  • All supervisory, management and governance roles directly relevant to three waters management (excluding political roles).

The Strategy will capture both council staff and contractors when carrying out council functions.  

Phase 1: Gathering Base Evidence 

Developing a meaningful strategy will involve understanding what the workforce looks like now and what challenges it faces, now and in the future.

The following two projects will be commissioned if funding can be secured. If you would like to pledge funding to this work please get in touch ASAP!

  • A workforce profile. 

This aims to provide a snapshot of the current workforce and its capability now.  This will include: the total size and distribution of the workforce across NZ; demographic statistics; information about skills, qualifications and experiences; labour market information such as average earnings, expected job replacement rates and current skill shortages; as well as training budgets and what they’re used for.

  • An environmental scan

This aims to provide an overview of the key issues and trends that are expected affect the sector over the next 10-20 years spanning political/legal, economic, social/cultural, technological, and environmental domains.  There will be a focus on assessing the likely operational impacts, consequences for future workforce capability and capacity, and how well the sector is positioned to respond.  The themes that emerge from this project will guide the workstreams.  

In addition to these projects, a stocktake of current capability initiatives is in progress.  It is important that this project identify and address gaps as well as ensure existing work is not duplicated.  Please get in touch if you are working on something in your own organisation or have heard about something interesting that we should incorporate into the stocktake.

Phase 2: Developing the Draft Strategy

Developing the draft Strategy will involve two stages:

  • Future scenario development and workforce modelling.

A workshop will be held to develop future scenarios for the sector.  Future workforce modelling will also be conducted.  This work will be informed by the workforce profile and environmental scan.  The aim is to provide a common view about the future so that consistent assumptions are used across the workstreams.  For example, how many people do we need to recruit into the sector for specific roles and where?  What skill areas will be in greatest demand? 

  • Analytical work to determine objectives and actions for the draft strategy (the Workstreams).

The underlying problems the strategy will seek to resolve will be explored via four workstreams.  This will enable SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound / Timely) and prioritised actions to be identified.

The four workstreams are:

  • Business capability needs
  • Competency standards and learning programmes
  • Funding arrangements for sector education and training and
  • Sector recruitment and retention.

It is anticipated that workstream analysis will be carried out by volunteers from the sector (some individuals have already volunteered – thank you).  If you would like to volunteer for the above workstreams, please get in touch.

For more information

The Water New Zealand contact for this work is Charlotte Cudby (Senior Policy Advisor) at  charlotte.cudby@waternz.org.nz or 04 495 0893.