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Lyle King: “I foresee a water industry with a workforce intertwined with technology"

  • Lyle King: “I foresee water industry with workforce intertwined with technology"

The water industry faces unprecedented changes, as digital technology transforms the way we work and the way we consume. Accordingly, the labour market in the sector is evolving fast.

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Charlton Morris
At Charlton Morris, we believe opportunities and solutions are easier to find when people search together. When we collaborate, we discover new and better ideas faster. This shapes our work as a specialist global search firm.

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Water sector careers are evolving as organisations adapt to the opportunities and challenges of new technologies in water management. How is the sector responding to the need for a workforce with old and new skills? And where is the talent? Lyle King is a recruitment consultant with CM Industrial that specialises in the global water and utilities market. Passionate about water, you might have read his articles on key issues like water scarcity. In this interview, Lyles gives us some insights into the labour market in the water industry.

Question: Could you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role in CM Industrial?

Answer: I’m Lyle, a Business Manager with CM Industrial and I provide a global executive recruitment service for companies operating across the water industry. I started with CM Industrial, part of the Charlton Morris Group, as a recruitment consultant in January 2016. This was after graduating from the University of Leeds with a BSc in Aviation Technologies & Management, with a background in manufacturing and precision engineering.

Since 2016, my role at CM Industrial has developed to the role I hold at the moment where I’m now leading a team of consultants that specialise in the water industry. We work with a variety of different companies from start-ups/SME’s through to multinational conglomerates that operate across a variety of different clean water and wastewater sectors. These range from single product line manufacturers to multi-brand technology manufacturers, full-service providers, contractors/consultancies and utilities.

We pride ourselves on staying engaged with professionals in the water industry, who we know don’t always want to talk about recruitment. That’s why we create, collaborate on and share water-focused content, via the CM Industrial website too.

One of the changes that I’ve seen over the last few years is the ever-growing need for digital technologies, accelerated by COVID-19

Q: To what extent has the water sector workforce evolved in terms of their education and skills in recent years?

A: One of the main changes that I’ve seen over the last few years is the ever-growing need for digital technologies, accelerated by COVID-19, across the water industry, and the way that companies are shifting their talent needs to reflect this.

Industrial water facilities and utilities alike are using digitally enhanced technologies including remote monitoring, data analytics, IoT and IIOT systems in an effort to promote energy optimisation, reduce water consumption and allow operators to remotely monitor their water assets. Many of these trends have been on-going for a number of years but some predictions suggest that only 3% of the data that is being collected across the water industry is extracting anything of value which would suggest there is a lot yet to achieve on the digital front. Further to this, as you can imagine, many companies have seen an accelerated demand for digital technologies/systems, when the ability to be physically present, has been significantly impacted by COVID-19!

This trend means that the industry requires more digitally apt and technologically focused talent to help shift the industry into this new digital age and satisfy the demand for more digital technologies. I’m seeing an increase in demand for software engineers and developers, and profiles with backgrounds in electronic/electrical engineering more generally, with a reduced demand for legacy-type operators.

I foresee a water industry that will be information-centric with a workforce intertwined with a variety of technologies promoting efficiency.

Companies should be taking a pro-active approach so that they have immediate access to highly skilled and highly relevant talent

Q: What challenges do water sector organisations face when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining talent?

A: One of the main challenges is that the recruitment market is a very busy market and it can be difficult for companies to stand out from the crowd. The vast majority of (good) candidates are usually only passively looking for their next career change, so it’s incredibly important for companies to have a talent pipelining strategy and roadmap in place. This will provide a sustainable model that lets you access quality talent immediately and saves you from waiting around for good candidates to reach out to you, or answer job advertisements that they might miss.

Companies should be taking a pro-active approach so that they have immediate access to highly skilled and highly relevant talent which stems from a having a strong employer brand that attracts talent, rather than having to seek out talent.

Another problem that companies can run into is the number of simultaneous interview processes that individual candidates can be in at any one time, making it even harder to attract talent. There are ways, however, that companies can differentiate themselves from competing businesses. One way to do this is to make your recruitment process efficient; arrange interviews with prospect candidates as quickly as possible, don’t delay an interview process, offer constructive feedback (positive or negative) and make the interview process an engaging dialogue between the prospect candidate and the hiring team.

Once you’ve done this, and you’ve added top-quality talent to your team, make sure there are clear goals for them to progress. Offer training and other ways for them to develop. Companies must train in order to retain, or risk employees leaving for more progressive opportunities.

Once you’ve added top quality talent, make sure there are clear goals for them to progress: offer training and other ways to develop

Q: There is talk about an upcoming wave of retirements in the water workforce and the need to replace them. What are your thoughts on this?

A: This is a common theme for many (if not all) industries and I think this is heightened by the fact that there is already a shortage of skilled workers, but ultimately it’s a problem that all companies will face at some point or another. The most effective way to manage this is by having a pro-active talent pipelining strategy, as I mentioned earlier, so that you have a pipeline of successors in place in the run-up to retirement.

Q: The water sector is known as a traditional sector. Are there challenges to attract talent with the skills needed to navigate the digital transformation of the sector successfully?

A: This is very true for the water industry and I think we’ll see more and more talent coming from outside of this sector, with transferable skill sets, that will enable the industry to continue its digital expansion. Attracting talent from outside of the industry can have its challenges but I also think that a career in the water industry offers many other benefits that will naturally attract talent.

An important tool to use, when companies are looking to hire from outside of the industry, is the data itself. There are platforms available on the market which allow companies to identify potential candidate pools for specific geographies/locations, which can be tailored further to show the pool of candidates that are available with a particular set of skills. This essentially means that companies will know how likely they are to attract talent of a certain criteria, before even doing a search. This then allows a company to focus their time and energy on an area that will deliver results, from a wider candidate pool.

We’ll see talent coming from outside of this sector, with transferable skills, that will enable it to continue its digital expansion

We’re entering an age where sustainability initiatives are seen as more than just environmental standards, but one that impacts us all on an economic and social level. There are global challenges and issues that the water industry is facing; water scarcity, sanitation and climate change (to name a few), all of which are very complex issues, by nature, with many complex solutions.

Companies that are operating across the industry have the ability to make a real impact on these global problems and the opportunity to be a part of this will play a key part in the industry’s ability to attract talent from other areas.

Q: Women are notoriously underrepresented in technical and managerial positions in the water sector. Does this lack of gender diversity ever come up in your area of work, and to what extent do you think it affects the water industry?

A: This is something that is rightfully getting more attention. I think this is a problem not synonymous with the water sector alone, but on a much wider basis across many industrial/engineering industries.

Diversity brings so many advantages like increased productivity, creativity and even higher retention rates. A balanced team of individuals from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences, often offer different ways of approaching problems and more rounded thinking. That’s why we need to move towards a more diverse workforce, not simply gender but ethnic and sexuality diversity too.

It’s so refreshing to see women and people from diverse backgrounds being appointed as board members and in leadership positions. D&I is so important in today’s recruitment market. I think this is an area that will see a significant change in the years to come.

A balanced team of individuals from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences, offer different ways of approaching problems

Q: What trends do you expect to see in the water industry’s labour market in the coming years?

A: Everyone’s talking about digitalisation. I think it’s very apparent that customers from all corners of the water industry are beginning to adopt technology in the way they use water. Data collection and data analytics can (and no doubt will) play a huge part in how the water industry moves forward. Digital systems can offer a range of savings from energy consumption, carbon emissions and maintenance savings.

Going digital could lead to a gap in the talent market, which may mean that companies look outside of water and particularly to the tech markets to bring in the necessary talent.

Q: Do you see a trend towards the expansion of green careers in general? Do you think the COVID-19 recovery provides an opportunity to boost green jobs?

A: Absolutely! We’re seeing an increased demand for green energy and green technology. I think sustainability is becoming a priority across the market which, up to this point, has largely been driven from international bodies such as the UN’s 2030 agenda, the Paris agreement and the European Union’s Green Deal. There’s now a growing expectation for companies to become more sustainable. As part of this, I think that companies will be promoting their sustainability initiatives as a way of differentiating themselves from the competition.

There are already some excellent examples of how companies have reduced their water footprint with the introduction of water recycling and re-use technologies, as part of CSR initiatives. A great example of this is L’Oréal’s “Dry Factory” which is re-using 100% of its industrial process water, but other big household names include Microsoft, PepsiCo, Heineken, IKEA and Amazon that are all investing into better water management processes.

D&I is so important in today’s recruitment market. I think this is an area that will see significant change in the years to come

Another great example of how companies are embracing sustainability is how the UK’s water companies have collectively agreed to become carbon neutral by 2030. I think one of the main challenges these companies/sectors face when trying to achieve these ambitious targets is how they continue to support business operations whilst reducing carbon emissions and water footprint!

Naturally, if these organisations are going to achieve these ambitious targets, the “green” job market will need to grow accordingly. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops in the coming years!