Is the water industry prepared for the rise of the millennials?

As the water industry prepares for deregulation, it is taking a look at the skills and talents of its workforce. One thing that is becoming clear is that the water industry, like many other regulated industries, is predominantly populated by people who have been post for quite some time.

The Industry Skills Accord reports that 36% of vacancies in the utilities industries are hard to fill; higher than any other sector, and 14% of industry employers report internal skills gaps
Inevitably these challenges will have to be addressed by recruiting and training the millennial generation, born between the years 1980 and 2000. By 2020 they will make up 50% of the workforce. They are more numerous than the Baby Boomer Generation that are now retiring and they will soon outnumber their Generation X predecessors.

Attracting the best of this generation will be the key to the success of the Water industry, ignoring them and failing to take account of their needs is the path to slow decline as our existing workforce ages and stagnates.

They are different to their predecessors in their expectations, ambitions and attitudes to work, they are the generation that are shaping the future of the business world, their aspirations and easy familiarity with new technologies will come to define the workplace.

A defining characteristics of this generation is their easy relationship with the digital world. As digital natives they have grown up with high speed internet and portable devices as commonplace. Their use of social media gives them an expectation of instant results. They are entering the industry with a better understanding of what can be achieved with technology than their more experienced older colleagues. This presents a particular opportunity to an industry, like water, that is going through a sea change – digital natives could give a business a great opportunity in building better customer experience and servicing opportunities.

It´s not just technology that makes them different, they have come of age during an economic crisis and their attitudes are coloured by that experience. Previous generations were happy to set organisational goals above their personal goals on the basis of being rewarded later, this generation see their own needs as more immediate and important and want immediate reward.

They see rapid career progression as the norm, they expect their work to be interesting and varied and they are turned off by rigid management and organisational structures. They expect flexibility, openness and frequent feedback and encouragement. They value knowledge, learning and personal development and if they can´t progress in the organisation they are very willing to move on to another organisation where they can.

They are looking for more in life than a long climb up the corporate ladder. They want to feel that they are making an important contribution, their ambition and optimism drives them to define success as being more than financial reward.

The water industry needs to examine, and potentially transform, culture and management style if they want to recruit millennial talent. The millennials expect the workplace to be a community with common interests and goals rather than a hierarchy that dictates actions to be blindly followed.

It goes without saying that the working environment needs to make the most of digital technology but the millennial won´t be confined to a grey cubicle. They do want to work hard, but they also value a comfortable stimulating environment that blurs the traditional hard lines between work and home life.

What should the industry do to make the most of millennial talent?


They are used to being always connected, they respond instantly, they expect portable devices so the technology platforms that we use should recognise and support this.


Of course we must have targets and be clear about what we want but we shouldn’t dictate where and how, leave room for creativity. What does it matter if they work from home as long as they complete what you ask of them? The workplace needs to be a stimulating and comfortable place to be, we should abandon our traditional distinction between work and home.

Learning and progression

Make online learning and development integral to the workplace using easily accessible structured courses as well as mentoring. We need to encourage progression by developing schemes that recognise achievement and status which will let the best of them advance quickly

Expect churn

Millennials don’t expect to be in a job for life so we must factor this in to our plans. They will leave but when they do, let´s make sure that they will recommend us to their peers as a forward thinking organisation.


We need to help this generation achieve their potential by highlighting their contributions and improvements. We need to recognise and encourage innovations and bright ideas, embracing positive change. We must tell them when they do well, review performance often and give lots of feedback.

Attracting and recruiting this generation sets our industry a big challenge, we must embrace change, recognise their different needs and make full use of the potential that they offer.
If we don´t then we will lose the brightest and best of them to other industries, widening the skills gap and leaving us with an uncertain future.

Angela Peart, Utility People