Utilities workforce report signals need for change

British Water has welcomed the 2020-2025 Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy launched by the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership. 

The document sets out how the sector can ensure a safe, skilled and sustainable workforce, and fill an estimated 277,000 vacancies over the next decade, while addressing challenges such as the climate emergency, skills shortages and a constricted labour market.

British Water chief executive Lila Thompson said: “We welcome and fully support this important document, which sets out tangible action the utilities sector can take to build resilience and tackle the impending skills gap to create a sustainable and positive future.

“The report’s publication is timely, given one of its main themes is workforce diversity, inclusion and attraction. It highlights a continued gender and ethnic minority disparity in the workforce – inclusion levels for the energy and utilities sector continue to be below the UK averages for gender, disability and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). BAME people, for example, represent just 5% of the workforce in comparison to a UK average of 12%. 

“At a time when the world’s focus is on supporting diversity and removing, in particular, barriers faced by black people, British Water is passionate about transformative change and invites the water industry to do things differently.”  

Thompson added that the water sector, an employer of 65,500 people, now has a unique opportunity to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce, especially given the rise in importance of social contracts, which encourage companies to commit to better representing the communities they serve. 

She said: “Let us commit to capturing the talent and creativity that the sector is missing out on and fill the shortage of procurement specialists, civil engineers, process engineers and cyber security specialists, to name just a few key job roles, where recruitment is challenging. 

“The Black Lives Matter movement has led to an extraordinary wave of social media conversations, many highlighting painful experiences and shedding light on present-day inequalities but many of the stories are positive and inspiring. For example, the social media hashtags #DiversityInSTEM #BlackInSTEM and #DiversityInScience show us just some of the important contributions BAME people are making in the worlds of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I invite my water peers to create safe spaces within their workplaces, if they have not already done so, for open conversations about race and racism and its impact on individuals. Through this and by shining a light on the achievements of BAME people in our industry, we can put in place the mechanisms to bring about the necessary step-change to capture latent talent and creativity in our communities. 

“The Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy shows us there is work to be done but we can truly grasp this opportunity to make a positive change in the water industry by emboldening all staff to have open conversations. This will allow people the freedom to voice concerns, experiences and stories. We all have a responsibility to drive change.”