"Water is such a huge issue and there is so much work to be done that I really do encourage graduates to get involved." DR RHONDDA DICKSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE MURRAY DARLING BASIN AUTHORITY

Living on the driest inhabited continent on Earth, Australians know the value of water. The issue of water in Australia is so critical that Dr Rhondda Dickson, Chief Executive of the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), says our water industry is of “national importance in terms of human water needs, industrial use, food production and our natural environment.”

The industry is currently experiencing rapid growth, which is creating unprecedented career opportunities. Water industry bodies anticipate that approximately $30 billion will be invested in infrastructure over the next 10 years and that 40,000 new employees will be needed by 2018. “It’s definitely an area where the number of positions will continue to increase. Water is such a huge issue and there is so much work to be done that I really do encourage graduates to get involved,” says Dr Dickson.

Ian Rowbottom, AECOM’s Water Industry Director, agrees, saying that the industry is no longer “the domain of the male engineer”, but has grown to include more female engineers as well as more scientists and other disciplines, which is “increasingly essential to deal with the complex array of issues facing the water industry.”

As a whole, the water industry looks after all aspects of the water cycle and its management: supply, treatment, wastewater treatment, resource planning, policy, law and research. The sector is spilt into distinct areas such as urban water e.g. drinking water, waste water and stormwater; rural water (e.g. irrigation); surface water; pollution; and protection of groundwater, rivers, wetlands and estuaries.

The sector employs many professionals with science and mathematics skills. Hydrologists, for example, solve water- related problems such as controlling river flooding or designing agricultural irrigation schemes. Other jobs include developing advanced treatment processes to ensure wastewater and stormwater can be used, or monitoring harmful freshwater and marine organisms. Depending on your preference, science-related roles can mean spending lots of time in the field (e.g. collecting samples from rivers), in the laboratory (e.g. water quality analysis), or in front of the computer (e.g. mathematical modeling to predict groundwater levels).

Water authorities also employ engineers – who are central to the sector – in creating and operating infrastructure needed for collecting, storing, purifying, delivering, and managing water.

Another major area, which is increasing in its demand for specialists, is policy and planning. The water industry faces complex issues requiring innovative and workable solutions. Professionals are needed to create rules for water accounting, trade and sustainability.

Because water security is one of the main environmental policy areas for the government, many positions are within the public sector. The main government employers are: the Australian Government Department of the Environment, state or territory environmental bodies, and the associated Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), regional Catchment Management Authorities (CMA), and local governments.

Graduate programs are an excellent way to get started in the water industry, and almost all agencies have them. Dr Dickson says the MDBA hires many science graduates, with a range of majors, especially through their graduate program. You can even get a foot in the door while still at university via the cadetship program, which Dr Dickson says develops the right skills and increases students’ opportunity of working with the MDBA in the future.

Consultancy firms are also a major source of employment. Rowbottom from AECOM – one of the largest technical consultancies in the world - says scientists working in the consulting industry can "expand beyond pure water science roles into more general environmental assessment and participation in construction teams."

Mr Rowbottom adds that consultancy firms provide opportunities to work on international water projects with aid and relief agencies. “Working in the water industry not only provides significant career development, it’s also helping to make a difference to the environment and to people’s lives,” says Mr Rowbottom.

Statistics and salaries

  • Employs 80,000 people
  • Has an annual turnover of over $8 billion
  • Contains over 400 water providers
  • $30 billion will be spent on water infrastructure over the next 10 years
  • There will be a demand for 40,000 new water employees by 2018
  • Australian Water Association is Australia's leading membership association for water professionals and organisations
  • Average salaries
  • Environmental scientist: $97,000
  • Laboratory scientist: $82,000
  • Scientist: $80,000

Sources: MyCareer.com.au

Government bodies

Industry bodies

Courses to consider

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