News that Thames Water must pay a £120 million bill for failing to tackle leaks has highlighted the industry’s yawning skills gap, says a leading training specialist.
Chris Wood, CEO of Develop Training Ltd (DTL), said the water sector urgently needed to attract more people and to invest in apprenticeships and skills training.
Thames Water was fined £55 million and ordered to pay £65 million to compensate customers for missing its targets after an investigation by regulator Ofwat.
Mr Wood said: “As with other utilities and the wider construction sector, much more needs to be done to attract young people into the industry to replace an ageing workforce. The water companies are fighting a battle on two fronts against leaks with a largely Victorian infrastructure and a shortage of skilled workers.”
He pointed out that an efficient water network was vital to the country’s economy and wellbeing, echoing the regulator’s comments that leakage puts strain on the environment, increases costs for customers and raises the risk of water shortages.
Mr Wood said: “Ofwat stated that a well-run water company will have a good understanding of the condition of its pipes and be able to reduce leakage over time. Clearly, a well-resourced, skilled workforce is necessary to do that, and I have no doubt that problems like this across the utilities are exacerbated by the workforce being stretched too thinly.”
He said the industry was slowly getting to grips with apprenticeships after the introduction of the levy last year, citing DTL’s new programme in sewerage and drainage for Amey, a major contractor to Yorkshire Water.
He added: “There has been a lot in the news about the need for more apprentices to learn the skills we need to keep Britain running, and we are pleased to be playing our part, alongside major customers in the utilities and construction, to equip a new generation with the knowledge and experience to make this happen