Scaling-up for AMP8 water sector transformation

Scaling-up for AMP8 water sector transformation

Unprecedented investment in the water sector in 2025-30 throws up many challenges, but there are innovative ways through on skills, technology and capacity building.

The water sector in England and Wales is preparing for what is set to be the largest environmental investment programme in its history. Companies are proposing £96 billion of investment in their 2025-30 business plans - an unprecedented 88% increase on the previous five years.

Key elements will be improvements to combined storm overflows (CSOs) - proposals that will eliminate an average of 140,000 sewage spills each year, say Water UK - tighter phosphorous removal requirements and enhanced river quality monitoring, along with wastewater treatment efficiencies, in particular, ensuring full-flow-to-treatment. 

On the water supply side, big commitments have been made to cut leakage by over a quarter. Smart water meter rollouts will support this goal by enabling real-time network monitoring, for faster detection of leaks. The rich and timely data provided by high performance smart meters will also reduce per capita consumption, by enabling customers to accurately monitor their usage.

Suppliers like Xylem are developing new technologies and service models to help utilities deliver their transformative plans. As a global solutions provider and manufacturer, Xylem is also increasing production capacity across its manufacturing sites, to ensure it is ready to meet the demand of its products. 

Such a major capital programme will mean a rise in demand of technology and services - water company procurement managers now building AMP8 agreements and frameworks for delivery in 2025-30, should be reviewing their partners’ and suppliers’ readiness to support that requirement.

While manufacturing capacity can increase, one of the biggest challenges the sector faces is people - ensuring there are enough boots-on-the-ground to deliver projects. Water UK predicts that Asset Management Plan investment in the next five years will result in a 50% increase in the workforce, with more than 30,000 highly skilled jobs expected to be created.  

Including the supply chain, UK membership organisation Energy & Utility Skills puts the total number of new recruits at 64,700 needed by 2029, but the sector is experiencing challenges to recruit new employees. Additionally, there is a significant retirement wave due in the water sector, which poses a risk of substantial loss of knowledge and expertise.  

Filling these gaps will be a massive undertaking but the sector has an opportunity to attract new talent by pulling together to promote itself as an industry with purpose. Building a career in water puts you at the heart of the green revolution and offers the chance to make a difference to communities across the world.  

To help build for the future, Xylem UK launched a graduate scheme in October 2023. It currently has two graduates working through a programme that takes them across the business. Our graduates were drawn to Xylem’s environmental and social values, as they align with their personal values.  They want to help solve the world’s water crisis - and the sector needs their skills and ideas.

We will be repeating the scheme each year, with plans to expand it to take on more graduates. We are also proud of our apprenticeship programme, which sees an intake of apprentices work across the business while completing course work and exams. 

Water companies already have well-established graduate and apprenticeship schemes, as well as recruitment programmes that target a range of disadvantaged jobseekers and diverse groups. I believe there is scope in this area for collaboration between suppliers and utilities, so trainees and new recruits can see the sector from all perspectives, to accelerate learning and expand their knowledge and capabilities.

In recognising the skills gap and the need for efficiencies, services are now widely available that streamline and automate processes to save time and resource, and free up people to work in areas where they can add more value to their organisation. 

Off-site build – where modularised plant is designed, built and tested off-site – was a favoured approach in AMP7, which I expect to see increase in AMP8 to limit onsite time. 

Data-as-a-service (DaaS) models – where data collection and analysis is managed by a supplier - will also gain momentum. One example is Xylem’s recently launched HydroDaaS for river water quality monitoring. Xylem is exploring different models, such as pumping-as-a-service, where pumps are owned, operated and maintained by external partners. 

These are just two of many examples of how suppliers can help build a more resilient, robust and sustainable sector. Like many suppliers, Xylem is looking forward to developing stronger partnerships with water companies over the next five years and would invite those who would like a conversation about new ways of working to get in touch. 

Written for and first published in Water Magazine May 2024

by Andrew Welsh, Water Utilities Sales Director, Xylem UK