Water/Sewerage Network Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Water network operatives, also known as sewerage or leakage operatives, are responsible for looking after the pipes, mains and pumping stations that supply homes and business premises with fresh water and remove wastewater and sewerage.

The main areas of work include:

  • Carrying out planned maintenance on water and wastewater pipes.
  • Checking for faults.
  • Replacing cracked or damaged pipes.
  • Responding to customer call-outs and emergencies, such as burst mains pipes or sewerage blockages.
  • Installing new pumping equipment and water meters.

Usually working in small teams of two people, typical duties include:

  • Using computer-generated maps and plans to trace where underground pipes are located and which underground chambers they feed into.
  • Lifting manhole covers, providing central teams with a visual report and an initial diagnosis.
  • Using closed circuit television (CCTV) to check for blockages in pipes and drains.
  • Clearing blockages with steel rods and high-pressure jets.
  • Switching off or diverting water supplies while work is carried out.
  • Digging holes by hand or with mechanical digging equipment.
  • Laying and repairing water mains and pipes.
  • Recording details of jobs done and materials used.
  • Filling in holes, repairing pavements and clearing rubble away once work is completed.

Leakage operatives will also use specialist software to measure water flowing in and out of pipes. Any water unaccounted for could indicate a leak.

Operatives needing to take a closer look at pipes may have to enter sewerage chambers. When doing so they will check for dangerous gases using specialist equipment.

On some projects, such as repeat call-outs, water and sewerage operatives may work very closely with engineers, surveyors, building contractors and other tradespeople.

At all times, water and sewerage operatives must follow set safety procedures to ensure that they are not endangering their work colleagues or members of the public.

Water and sewerage network operatives usually work 37 hours a week, often on a shift basis. This may involve working nights and providing on-call cover on a rota basis to assist with emergencies. Overtime may be available. Part-time work is quite rare.

Operatives may work on underground pipes and sewers, at reservoirs and water towers or at sewage treatment plants. Most of their time is spent working outside in all weathers. Conditions are often wet, dirty and smelly. They wear protective clothing and sometimes breathing apparatus.

The work can be quite physical, with lots of bending and lifting, sometimes in confined spaces. Heavy machinery may be used.

Apprenticeship salaries at the beginning of training are usually around £10,000 to £11,000 a year. Salaries at the end of Apprenticeship training are typically around £17,000 a year.

Experienced operatives and team leaders may earn up to £25,000 a year.

Overtime and shift allowances paid on top of these salaries can increase earnings considerably.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The UK water industry employs over 166,000 people. In England, job opportunities exist right across the country with privatised regional water and wastewater companies, and subcontracting companies.

The industry has an ongoing programme of construction, operation and maintenance of the water and wastewater infrastructure, so the number of jobs remains constant.

Jobs, Apprenticeship opportunities and careers information are published on most water companies' websites. For a list of members, visit the websites of British Water and the Society of British Water & Wastewater Industries (SBWWI). Adverts may also appear in the local press, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres.

Education and Training

There are no specific academic entry requirements. However, some employers may ask for GCSE's or equivalent, including English and maths. Practical subjects, such as technology and engineering, may help to secure employment. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

A common route into this job is via an Apprenticeship. Most employers ask for at least four GCSE's (A*- C), including maths, English and another relevant subject, such as science, engineering or design and technology. This varies between employers.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Previous work experience or qualifications in engineering, building services engineering, plumbing or construction may be useful for those not taking the Apprenticeship route.

Driving a van within a regional area is a big part of the job, so a clean driving licence is useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training for new entrants is a combination of learning the practical skills from experienced operatives and possibly attending courses, either with the employer or at a nearby training centre.

Induction training will focus on giving the health and safety awareness required to work on water supply networks. Before working on site, employers require operatives to have an appropriate safety passport. This proves that health and safety training has been received. Relevant safety passport schemes for water and sewerage network operatives include the EUSR Utilities Safety, Health and Environment (SHEA)Water and the National Water Hygiene Scheme.

See the Energy & Utility Skills Register (EUSR) website for more details of the schemes and a list of training centres.

Apprentices and many other operatives will work towards one or more of the following NVQ qualifications:

- Levels 1, 2 & 3 in network construction operations (water)
- Level 2 in distribution control
- Level 2 in leakage detection and Level 3 in leakage control
- Level 3 maintaining water supply (network)
- Level 3 controlling process operations

Trainees study subjects such as water technology and supply, distribution system construction, health and safety, the environment and customer care.

NVQ's are also available at Level 2 in operating process plant (with optional units in water, wastewater or sludge).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Water and sewerage network operatives need to be:

  • Physically fit, with good practical skills.
  • Quick thinking and able to enjoy solving problems.
  • Comfortable working in confined spaces.
  • Willing to cope with unpleasant smells and substances.
  • Able to follow and understand safety regulations and instructions.
  • Able to use diagrams and plans to locate pipelines.
  • Skilled in using a variety of tools and machinery.
  • Numerate, in order to take measurements, and calculate areas and distances.
  • Able to use computers.
  • Good communicators to keep members of the public and work colleagues informed.
  • Confident working alone and within a close team.

Your Long Term Prospects

On completion of an Apprenticeship and with NVQ Level 3, water and sewerage network operatives can achieve craftsperson status. They can also be promoted to team leader jobs, which could involve managing multiple teams.

Further training and studying for qualifications such as an engineering degree could lead to roles like engineering technician, incorporated water engineer or chartered engineer.

Get Further Information

British Water,
1 Queen Anne's Gate,
London SW1H 9BT
Tel: 020 7957 4554
Website: www.britishwater.co.uk

Energy & Utility Skills,
Friars Gate, 1011 Stratford Road,
Shirley, Solihull B90 4BN
Tel: 0845 077 9922
Website: www.euskills.co.uk/careers

Energy & Utility Skills Register
Tel: 0845 077 9922
Website: www.eusr.co.uk

Society of British Water & Wastewater
Industries (SBWWI), 38 Holly Walk,
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV32 4LY
Tel: 01926 831 530
Website: www.sbwwi.co.uk

Water UK,
1 Queen Anne's Gate,
London SW1H 9BT
Tel: 020 7344 1844
Website: www.water.org.uk

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