A dip in the gene pool

The water industry lacks customer focus and up-to-date IT systems.

So says Perry Noble, partner in investment manager Hermes Infrastructure, according to Utility Week in an article that opens with – ‘Sticky’ workforce and limited ‘gene pool’ in senior management causing talent problems for water.’ Perry made the comments last year at the Water UK City conference.

dna-163466_1280He notes that low employee turnover also means there are few openings to bring this knowledge in from the outside.

Perry may be part of the problem though. He also stated at the conference that Hermes remained committed to the water industry, explaining that the inflation-linked indexation of water prices means that the industry provides good matching assets for its pension fund clients. This inclines water companies towards conservatism, preferring steady and reliable earnings to quicker and riskier change.

It is not just the predominance of engineering competence that prevents this. It is also the nature of a risk-averse industry that knows that a wrong foot might result in the ill-health of a large number of the population.

Another challenge is that people willing to make the move from their current industry to the water industry must by nature be adventurous; and they often find it difficult to transition from fast-moving customer focused environment to a relative backwater by comparison. They often bounce out of their new roles quickly, unable to adapt, and finding their new homes unable to adapt to them.

On the other hand, the industry faces some huge challenges which mean that traditional ways of working and historic ways of solving problems will need to change at a faster pace than before.

One way or another new DNA is required. But this might occur at evolutionary speed rather than at that of a revolution.