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This staffing and operations company is making the water industry more diverse

Staffing, operations and maintenance company Programmed is working towards enabling a more diverse water sector by implementing strategies to support trainees and apprentices to skill up and enter the workforce.

Facilitating a 45,000 strong contract skilled labour force for multiple industries across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, Programmed’s Water Academy has been set up to enable traineeships for people entering the water sector.

Recently voted in as AWA's Victorian Vice President and Programmed’s National Contract Executive of Water, Julian Kinder said the company has been focusing on alleviating skills shortages within the sector.

“The vision for the Water Academy was to look at and identify some of the skills shortages across the sector. For example, it could be skill shortages in mechanical, electrical, civil trades, or in administration positions,” he said.

“We set up the Water Academy to target those shortages by facilitating traineeships and apprenticeships to train people up in certain areas. The idea is to develop trainees into more senior roles across the business as well.

“One of our core strategies is around gender diversity, which is lacking in the water industry. We set out to advertise positions in different ways to help build more diversity into the sector.”

Changing young minds

One of Programmed’s successful initiatives has been its primary school program, which aims to teach young students about gender roles and professions.

“Programmed’s strategy is grassroots. We started to go to primary and secondary schools to talk about trades with children. We went into classrooms and facilitated an activity around professions,” he said.

“We put dolls on the table and asked the kids to start dressing them up as an electrician, a mechanic and a football player. The kids were dressing up these dolls to look like men.

”We then brought in a real life electrician, mechanic and football player, but they were all women. The kids were really amazed. The idea was to showcase that these professions and roles were things that anyone could do.”

Programmed’s National Contract Executive of WaterJulian Kinder

Kinder said that when it comes to training young adults, the work the company has done with water utility partners has helped to build diversity into employment strategies and boost opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds.

“From a water perspective, we set up this Water Academy to continue that journey and open opportunities up for a diverse range of people. We’ve had a really successful program with City West Water and now launching this into Sydney Water. We kicked it off three years ago with six positions, at City West Water” he said.

“We’ve filled all the positions; two of the employees are women, and four are men from diverse backgrounds. We are commencing the same program at Sydney Water now, too.

“When I look at the contracts we manage at Programmed, we aim to create a workforce that represents the community. The contractors that work among the community are the community so we recruit from within.

“We start with clear targets on the certain individuals that we would like to bring into the contract, and we work really hard to bring them in, but it's also about setting a strategy for future generations.”

A range of opportunities

Kinder said helping young people think about careers in the water industry is important, as there is a misconception that entering the water sector requires a university degree in science or engineering. 

“When we first launched the Water Academy in Victoria, we went out to secondary schools and started to talk about careers in water. It’s often that students want to quit school and don’t see themselves finishing [the Victorian Certificate of Education] or entering university.  We aim to help create a pathway for those students to enter into a trade, or a traineeship-based role,” he said.

“There are so many wonderful opportunities within the water sector that don’t require a university degree. There are fulfilling, interesting career paths. Our aim is to help young people with training to set them up for success.”

Kinder encourages all water sector businesses to consider rethinking how they recruit and employ new talent because experience has shown him that supporting the next wave of diverse water sector workers can be done.

“Sharing these success stories is really important. If a water business wants to set up a diversity strategy, there are some really effective ways of doing it. We’ve had water businesses reaching out to us to help them on their journey,” he said.

“But I’d love to see more businesses getting involved. We are able to help organisations start small, and then guide them through expanding the strategy across their business. We love to partner with businesses and explore opportunities into the future.

“If we can start sharing the success stories of other water businesses, it encourages more organisations to get involved in training and upskilling more diverse personnel within their staff.

“With a clear focus and strategy, everyone can do it and I encourage everyone across the water sector to invest in more programs that creates diversity and supports our younger generations to be successful.”