Strategy aims to address Three Waters workforce shortage

Strategy aims to address Three Waters workforce shortage

 Monday, 21 March 2022

A major report on how to transform the Three Waters workforce to support a thriving future industry has just been released.

We Are Water – Ko Wai Tātau Three Waters Workforce Development Strategy is a joint collaboration between Waihanga Ara Rau Construction and Infrastructure Workforce Development Council, Water New Zealand, Department of Internal Affairs, Taumata Arowai, Connexis, and industry.

Water New Zealand Chief Executive Gillian Blythe says a highly skilled workforce will be essential if the Three Waters sector is to address the long-term lack of investment in infrastructure as well as meet future growth needs.

“It’s been estimated that this industry will need an additional 6-9000 skilled workers over the next 30 years if we are to meet safe drinking water standards and improved environmental outcomes.

“That’s why we need a national strategy that can tell us exactly what our workforce needs are for the next 5 to 10 years and how we can develop long term career pathways to attract and retain workers.”

Waihanga Ara Rau General Manager Assurance, Mike Grumball says the ultimate goal is to deliver a workforce development strategy that inspires people to join the sector.

“We need to look at how we can attract people into the sector who are just starting out in their careers as well as those with transferable skills from other sectors, including people heavily affected by COVID-19.

“We also want to ensure greater diversity, and this means a particular emphasis on recruitment and support for Māori, women and people retraining from other sectors.”

The strategy has come up with a roadmap which includes four strategic goals – respect Māori interests and knowledge, create intuitive career pathways, design for career progression and design for success to support the transformational change needed.

These are underpinned by 14 recommendations, outlined below.

Grumball says the next phase of the strategy will involve working with industry to explore how the fourteen recommendations can be implemented.

“I strongly urge the sector to get involved in this opportunity to establish the framework for future growth.”

Grumball will be presenting the findings and next steps at two webinars being hosted by Water New Zealand over the next few weeks.

Webinar one, presenting and discussing the environmental scan that helped shape the research into what inspires people to join the sector and how to attract new people without reliance on immigration, will be held 3-4pm, Monday 28 March. Register here:

Webinar two, presenting the findings of the strategy and the next steps for the industry will be held 3-4pm, Wednesday 6 April. Register here:

We Are Water – Ko Wai Tātau Three Waters Workforce Development Strategy was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission’s COVID-19 Response Projects Fund.

For a copy of the Water Workforce Development Strategy, go to:

Strategic goals and recommendations


New Zealand’s water sector is entering a new stage of management that incorporates regionalised (and localised) Māori knowledge and oversight. Commissioning Māori-led research on this topic is needed to progress in a way that upholds the articles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi

  • Recommendation 1: Build understanding of Te Mana o te Wai
  • Recommendation 2: Understand new opportunities for Māori roles and pathways
  • Recommendation 3: Provide a bridge for rangatahi Māori into existing water roles
  • Recommendation 4: Grow and support Māori leadership


Enacting the reform requires a not seen before step-change in the industry’s ability to attract and recruit a diversity of talent in New Zealand.

  • Recommendation 5 – Create clear entry points from other sectors
  • Recommendation 6 – Establish focussed outreach to schools
  • Recommendation 7 – Tell real stories of life in the industry
  • Recommendation 8 – Find a united industry voice


There is a positive perception inside industry that a new level of collaboration is required for successful growth.

  • Recommendation 9 – Create flexible, consistent pathways
  • Recommendation 10 – Develop leadership and mentorship programmes

Strategic Goal 4: DESIGN FOR SUCCESS

There is a need for a long-term, values-aligned strategy to strengthen recruitment, skills and training throughout the sector, and across all regions of Aotearoa.

  • Recommendation 11 – Invest in talent and communities
  • Recommendation 12 – Build trust with small water suppliers
  • Recommendation 13 – Build and leverage data
  • Recommendation 14 – Create a values driven sector