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The New South Wales Government has announced it will attempt to address the shortage of skilled water operators in New South Wales by rolling out up to 900 fee-free vocational training placements across the state.

Over the next four years there is expected to be a deficit of 1,476 qualified water technicians, with the government saying that this program will help to bridge the gap. The investment is designed to ensure that there are trained staff to manage water and sewerage systems, avoiding taps running dry, toilets not flushing, or water services being disrupted.

The program is also set to support the regional workforce in New South Wales by delivering ongoing opportunities to train, upskill and secure quality employment, while ensuring skilled operators remain at the helm of critical water and sewerage infrastructure.

Training Services NSW has already invested in training for 683 leavers at a cost of more than $4.7 million, designed to support the $32.8 million Town Water Risk Reduction Program run by the Department of Planning and Environment.

The fee-free placements cover a range of programs, including: Certificate III traineeships; Certificate IV placements; school-based traineeships; choice of elective subjects as a single unit of study; Aboriginal placements; pre-employment skills programs and trade pathways for experienced workers.

New South Wales Minister for Water, Rose Jackson, said, “The water skills shortage is an ongoing challenge for remote areas and even larger regional areas like Dubbo.

“Water operations staff are the unsung heroes of their local towns and cities, working quietly in the background so residents and businesses have continuous access to safe, clean drinking water and reliable wastewater services.

“During the 2022 floods, there were regional water operators in NSW who slept at water and sewage treatment plants, away from their families, to support residents and businesses, which is an extraordinary example of community service.

“It doesn’t matter what corner of the state you live in, we want to make sure there are enough skilled technicians available on the ground to fill vacant spots and help improve water quality and security in New South Wales,” Ms Jackson said.

New South Wales Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education, Steve Whan, said, “Fee-free placements remove the financial barriers for people to access the training they need to do their jobs.

“The program is designed to boost opportunities for regional New South Wales school leavers, Aboriginal students, industry trainees and workers, along with existing water operators.

“There are some great regional employment opportunities in this sector – councils, water authorities, and irrigation districts all crying out for trained staff. Labor’s approach is all about addressing training needs and building our future workforce,” Mr Whan said.

Chair of the Orana Water Utilities Alliance in Western New South Wales, Doug Moorby, said, “We desperately need to upskill more people in water operations. Everyone is always scratching for skilled staff, there are currently vacancies across the board that we are struggling to fill which is why we need more training.

“Orana councils already support each other by providing operators when there are shortages. For example, this month we had an operator from Narromine support Cobar and a technician from Brewarrina pitch in to help Walgett.

“But at the end of the day, this is not enough to fill the gaps. It will make a huge difference having the NSW Government on our side by addressing the issues that are impacting the water utilities workforce in regional NSW,” Mr Moorby said.

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