October 16, 2015 Society

Growing Professional and Sector-Wide Capacities

A student pours solutions into a flask

Recently, 193 governments signed the most ambitious agenda for humanity yet: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Water plays a fundamental role in all aspects of life, so it’s no surprise that the SDGs make the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 an absolute priority. Only by doing so will the most fundamental goals of ending poverty, ending hunger and ensuring sustainable development be realised.

Advancing the water agenda is not going to happen unless there is a strong and continuous commitment, from local and international actors, to grow professional and sector wide capacities. Currently, the water sector faces human capacity shortages and serious skills ‘mismatch’ that threaten the realisation of the SDGs.

Staggering human capacity gaps were found in recent research carried out by the IWA. The research shows that, in 10 participating countries, nearly 800,000 trained water and sanitation professionals are required to reach universal coverage. According to a 2012 WHO/GLAAS report, countries report insufficient staff to operate and maintain urban and rural drinking-water systems. Only 27 countries (out of 67 respondents) report sufficient staff at an urban level, and only 11 countries report sufficient staff at a rural level.

The situation is particularly dramatic in some areas of Africa, where highly qualified technical personnel are in short supply to fill essential functions; while water utilities frequently face financial hardship that restrains the recruitment of qualified personnel.

Skills mismatch – when workers are not well-matched with their jobs due to over education or under education – is another major problem. In some regions and professions graduates cannot be absorbed adequately by the job market; in other regions and water-related professions there are not enough qualified personnel to cover demands. The IWA Human Resources Capacity Gap highlights this as a critical barrier to the water sector achieving the SDGs.

The lack of skills is particularly acute in technical and vocational workers at utility level. GLAAS reported that out 73 countries, less than 20% consider the supply of skilled labor and technicians adequately developed to meet the needs; 68% of respondents pinpointed the underdevelopment of workers and technicians as a major issue.

Considering that water supply and wastewater facility operators employ about 80% of the workers in the water industry, it’s clear that strengthening competences in this area is urgent. This is also true for developed countries, which are experiencing loss of technical talent as baby boomers retire.

How to develop the right competencies for water professionals to successfully tackle current and future water challenges? How to ensure that professionals, in particular the two largest untapped resources, women and young people, can play a transformative role in the water industry? How to align education with the needs of the sector?

The IWA Water and Development Congress and Exhibition held in Jordan, is a unique opportunity to meet with practitioners and academics in the water sector, share experiences, exchange ideas and discuss the latest advances in ensuring a growing and stronger professional and sector capacity.

At utility level, this will focus on what actions can be taken to develop a strong, reliable workforce. Not only how to attract the right people, but how to develop talent to ensure people possess the competencies required to excel in their role.

The congress is also an opportunity to discuss how new acquired knowledge can be better integrated in daily practice to improve services. Several presentations will address the advances and challenges of Water Operator Partnerships (WOPs) as collaborative mechanisms to strengthen water operators around the globe.

Training & education institutions as well as research centers also are going to have a space to discuss their experiences with online education, public-private partnerships and other mechanisms that ensure they better respond to current and future needs of the water sector.

The Congress will analyse how capacity development implemented by utilities, governments, education institutions and international organisations are producing an impact; and it will explore how capacity development could be better monitored and measured to secure the transition from national and international goals and targets to reality.