Water Workforce Toolbox

Empowering Our People

Our Purpose

The water industry is critical to the health and wellbeing of our communities and economy of Australia.

Despite the numerous career options and pathways within the industry and opportunity to undertake a rewarding role, the sector faces challenges in recruiting and retaining people in water related roles.

This Toolkit aims to provide qldwater member organisations with a range of practical solutions on the recruitment and retention of Water / Wastewater Operators. Several approaches included in this toolkit are already in place within member organisations, and are based on contemporary human resource practice. qldwater acknowledges not all inclusions will be relevant across member organisations given the differing levels of resourcing, staffing and operational requirements.

The intention is to review and update this toolkit every 3 years. qldwater welcomes input from its members regarding any initiatives and / or valuable services / partner organisations that are making a real difference in recruiting and retaining Water / Wastewater Operators. Feedback is welcomed outside of a review year, particularly as IR/HR practices, funding arrangements and/or industrial instruments are updated from time to time.

Download HR Toolkit

Recruitment Tips

Drafting a Position Description

Aside from the job advertisement, the position description (PD) is typically the next most important document an applicant will read to help them decide whether to progress with an application for the advertised vacancy.

The PD is critical for the organisation as it assists:

Potential applicants to decide whether the role and employer are a good fit.

The selection panel to identify the most suitable candidate/s for a job.

The manager and the person in the role with performance and career discussions.

Drafting a position description

Characteristics of a well-crafted position description

  • Written in plain English. Just like this.
  • Considers the audience, is not overly long with wordy paragraphs and jargon which may exclude a candidate. (Industry standard terminology is suitable, avoid internal jargon).
  • Avoids replicating information about the organisation that is available on the Careers page of the organisational website, a summary of the organisation’s key functions is ideal. The inclusion of an “About Us” link in the PD can take a potential applicant to more detailed information.
  • Provides a clear statement about the purpose of the role, including the impact / value of the role on the broader community.
  • Includes information about the work related environment. This may include the need to participate in shift work / rosters e.g. working weekends or travel requirements etc.
  • It has a succinct description or dot points about a “day in the life” for potential applicants. This may include day to day activities of the role, financial responsibilities, supervisory responsibilities or other duties unique to the organisation.
  • It clearly identifies the behaviours, knowledge, skills and qualifications needed to undertake the role. These should be limited to 5 – 6 key requirements that link back to the purpose of the role and day to day activities. Do not make the mistake of only focusing on technical skills and qualifications (i.e., that ‘hard’ skills). It is often the behavioural attributes (i.e., that ‘soft’ skills) that determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the role.
  • If there is a section for renumeration, this could be stated as an overall figure as long as the inclusions (salary, value of any additional recreation leave over the standard 4 weeks, value of superannuation etc.) are made clear.
  • Include a contact person and their position title, a phone number and email address and any additional information such as organisational specific requirements e.g. a Police Check, a medical assessment, drug and alcohol testing etc.

Generic Position Descriptions

Operators these days require increased technical skills and regulatory requirements

Generic position descriptions for Water Operators with corresponding levels of the Queensland Local Government Industry (Stream B) Award within Schedule 1 (Classifications – Operational Services) are available in this Toolkit. These can be tailored to suit specific requirements of the role / organisational context.

Toolbox Level 3

Toolbox Level 3 Water Networks Crew PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 3 Water Wastewater Networks Treatment Crew Member PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 3 Water Wastewater Treatment Crew PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 4

Toolbox Level 4 Water Networks Crew PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 4 Water Wastewater Networks and Treatment Crew Member PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 4 Water Wastewater Treatment Crew PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 5

Toolbox Level 5 Water Assistant Networks Operator PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 5 Water Wastewater Assistant Operator Treatment PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 5 Water Wastewater Networks Treatment Assistant Operator PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 6

Toolbox Level 6 Water Networks Operator PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 6 Water Wastewater Treatment and Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 6 Water Wastewater Treatment Operator

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 7

Toolbox Level 7 Water Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 7 Water Wastewater Treatment Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 7 Water Wastewater Treatment Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 8

Toolbox Level 8 Water Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 8 Water Wastewater Treatment and Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 8 Water Waste Water Treatment Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 9

Toolbox Level 9 Water Networks Supervisor PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Level 9 Water Wastewater Treatment Coordinator

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Trainee Apprentice

Toolbox Trainee Apprentice Water Networks PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Trainee Apprentice Water Wastewater Treatment and Networks PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Toolbox Trainee Apprentice Water Wastewater Treatment PD

RELEASE DATE 26-Mar-2024

Writing an advertisement for a specific role

Do you feel like your ads are not being seen? You’re not alone!

Writing a great advertisement is crucial to attracting the right applicant for the role and the organisation. There are three (3) major factors a potential applicant will consider when reading an advertisement and deciding whether to seek out further information and potentially apply for it.

Structure your Ad  

Your Organisation

Full Role Requirements

Benefits of the Job

  • Use industry standard position titles that are easily recognised in job searches on different platforms (e.g. SEEK.com, LinkedIn etc).
  • Be succinct whilst including essential information about the organisation, it's values and what it stands for and the requirements of the role including key criteria (behavioural attributes, skills and qualifications).
  • Provide a link to the position description rather than replicate its’ details.
  • Take a candidate centric approach providing information that is important to potential candidates in clear and plain English language. Use the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to find the key attraction drivers to include. If the organisation does not have an EVP, SEEK.com has a Laws of Attraction portal that can be used to gain insights into the minds of job applicants in Australia. It uses regularly refreshed local applicant data that can be filtered to suit an industry, type of organisation and even characteristics such as seniority and location.
  • Be creative! Tailor the advertisement to the specific role being recruited to. Consider the language to use and whether it is genuine and of a suitable style for the organisation and role. Avoid falling into a pattern of using overly formal or legalistic language. Promote the value of the role to both the organisation and the broader community.
  • Provide information about the overall remuneration and what this is comprised of (e.g. salary, superannuation, allowances, value of any additional leave over and above National Employment Standards, subsidised accommodation, training, relocation costs etc.)
  • Provide information about the available non-monetary benefits. These may include the EVP for the organisation, work-life balance options, employee wellbeing programs, employee assistance / support programs, gym memberships, subsidised health insurance membership, subsidised accommodation and/or opportunities for career progression / training.
  • Provide a link to information about living in the community the role is based in. Ideally this would link to the Career’s page on the organisation's website with helpful links such as local schools, health services, local attractions etc.
  • Optimise formatting for smart devices, job search engines and job boards. To find the right key words to use, research similar roles on job / career platforms such as Careers In Water, SEEK.com, Jora, LinkedIn, CareerOne, Indeed, and Adzuna.
  • Including a link to a video that talks to the benefits of working in the organisation / industry can help the advertisement stand out from the competition and gives people a sense of organisational culture and values. qldwater member organisations can apply for Bid Pool funding for collaborative initiatives with other members in the same QWRAP region such as the creation of promotional / marketing videos. Further details are available here.
  • Provide contact details of a suitable person for a potential applicant to contact for further information. Ensure that person understands the importance of responding to any queries in a timely, suitably friendly way.
  • Review the requirements for applications. Are they overly cumbersome / bureaucratic? Several local government organisations have moved away from requiring applicants to respond to individual selection criteria. Instead, applicants are asked to submit a resume with a covering letter and contact details for relevant referees. Anecdotal evidence indicates this has resulted in increased applications for positions.
  • Provide clear details as to what a potential applicant needs to submit when applying for the role such as a detailed resume, a covering letter (if required) or short responses to online questions, names and contact details of required number of relevant referees, copies of qualifications (if required).
  • Ensure there is an easily identifiable link for an applicant to submit their application.

Where to Advertise

The ins and outs of Job Platforms

Job platforms are now the primary channels used by people looking for a new role. A range of platforms are available with varying costs (including for free) depending on the type of package an organisation wants. Consider the geo-fencing for on-line job advertisements.

The following sites may be appropriate for your organisation

Careers in Water developed through a collaboration between the Water Services Association of Australia and the Australian Water Association. The site also hosts materials for a non-branded water industry campaign.

The qldwatercareers website promotes careers in the water and sewerage industry in Queensland including a link to available jobs. Member organisations can post job vacancies on this site.

SEEK.com has a multi-national presence across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South East Asia, Brazil and Mexico.

Jora is a job search engine that aggregates job advertisements from many sites as well as jobs posted directly to their site into one search result.Employers can post up to 100 free job advertisements / month. Jora also offers paid plans to increase the exposure of job advertisements.

CareerOne is an Australian digital employment brand offering approaches to candidate sourcing, talent management, and employer branding.

Indeed is a job search engine and employment platform that connects job seekers with employers. It operates in over 60 countries.

Adzuna is a job search engine that aggregates job advertisements from several thousand sources. It operates in 20 countries worldwide.

Local Government Association Queensland provides a Council Jobs page for member organisations to post details of available positions.

Organisation Website

Most modern organisations have their own website which includes a Careers page to advertise available positions. This can be a useful avenue to promote the organisation as a great place to work through an EVP strategy, the future career opportunities available, and provide positive information about living in the local community.

  • Ensure currency of jobs advertised
  • Take a candidate-centric approach to the content
  • Ensure it is easy for the potential applicant to source additional information including making contact with a designated contact person
  • Ensure the process of submitting an application is straightforward
  • Set up an automated email acknowledgement (at a minimum) of submitted applications and provide information about next steps and likely timeframes.

Consider establishing an Expression of Interest and / or Continuous Applicant Pool function on the Careers page. This can encourage potential applicants to submit their resume in the event future vacant positions suiting their skill sets become available. Some considerations around this are:

  • Length of time resumes will be retained and ensuring this is communicated on the webpage
  • Acknowledging receipt of the resume
  • Ensuring a clear internal process for sending the resume to the relevant manager
Applying online image

Social Media

Many job seekers use social networks to search and apply for jobs. Data from LinkedIn indicates 56% of jobseekers use social media to look for new opportunities. Popular social sites include:

  • LinkedIn allows organisations to connect with potential applicants. Paid job postings can be used to target a desired audience and give applicants the option of applying directly using information from their LinkedIn profiles. Posting a status update on the organisation’s LinkedIn page is a good way to promote a job opening. Include a link to the job listing and / or organisation’s Careers page.
  • Facebook – options include paying for advertising targeting desired audiences to promote itself to people who are likely to be interested in available jobs; posting “we are hiring” on the organisational Facebook page and providing details of the role and how to apply; joining relevant Facebook pages and posting the availability of roles when they arise. Some possible useful pages include Australian Rural and Remote Jobs, Grey Nomads Jobs, Working on the road in Australia, Working as we travel
  • X (Twitter) – character limitations mean details need to be limited to only what is absolutely necessary to catch a potential applicant’s attention. Use the position title, location of the role and a clear call to action with a link to the full position description, Careers page or application form. Use high-performing hashtags to increase the reach of the post e.g. #jobs#Hiring#water#career etc.
  • Instagram - is a photo and video sharing social networking service which allows users to upload media that can be edited with filters, be organized by hashtags, and be associated with a location via geographical tagging. Posts can be shared publicly or with preapproved followers.

Other Tips

  • If appropriate, Encourage existing employees to share job openings, interesting projects, culture stories and company updates on their own social media accounts however ensure they are aware of the organisations social media policy. Consider a referral reward policy for employees who refer a candidate resulting in successful recruitment of an employee (once that employee has passed probation).
  • Research preferred social media platforms used by desired candidate pools. including asking existing employees what they use.
  • Use the organisation’s social media platform to post images of events, achievements and promote the workplace culture.
  • Ensure social media posts are appropriately managed by HR/Communications.

Recuritment Agencies

There are a few water industry focused recruitment agencies in Australia which, if budget permits, may be an avenue to source suitably skilled applicants. Recruitment agencies will charge a fee for their services (a flat fee or percentage of salary). It is important to be clear on associated costs prior to engaging services.

Potential benefits of using a recruitment agency include:

  • Access to a network of applicants, including passive job seekers
  • Knowledge of the industry and the market
  • Outsourcing some aspects of the recruitment / selection process allows internal resources to focus on other critical work
  • A strong approach to applicant screening.

Traditional Approaches

Applying online image

Advertising job opportunities in local newspapers, on radio and local billboards may also gain traction. Consider options for engaging with your local media outlets to run ‘advertorials’ to promote the organisation as a great place to work.

Where to source potential applicants

Where are the good workers hiding?

Numerous avenues exist to sourcing potential candidates outside of advertised job vacancies.

Key to this is maintaining a focus on promoting:

The value water industry roles bring to the wider community and to individuals feeling of self-worth

The organisation and its EVP at every available opportunity.

Whilst not every audience will be interested in a career in water or with a particular organisation, providing them quality and engaging information may well result in them sharing this with their own networks. Following is a range of approaches, some of which may be more, or less relevant, depending on the organisation.

Develop / source marketing collateral

Gaining the attention and interest of potential applicants is better supported with the use of contemporary marketing materials. The costs associated can vary depending on the level of sophistication. Following, are some ways to manage costs:

  • Collaborate with other QWRAP members in the region to develop non-branded videos (e.g., A Day in the Life of….), photographs, and hard copy using staff from the different organisations. These can be used on organisation websites, relevant social media and at talks to various target audiences. It may also be possible to access QWRAP bid pool funding for collaborative initiatives.
  • Run in-house campaigns interviewing employees in video recordings/grab on the work they do. This can be used as part of the organisation’s social media platforms articulating their employee value proposition. Ensure purposeful, clear and relevant disclosures (e.g. permission for use of images, intellectual property rights etc.) have been covered. Do not limit this to water industry jobs. Posting videos on roles across the organisation or staff discussing the benefits of the organisation, why it’s a great place to work, creates great content to promote the organisation as a potential employer.
  • Collaborate with local senior schools or recognised training organisations offering audio-visual / social media courses or similar. There may be opportunities to provide work placements or complete practical assignments on the basis the developed collateral can be used by the organisation.
  • Use non-branded materials available through the collaboration between the Water Services Association of Australia and the Australian Water Association – Careers in Water. qldwater also has non-branded information on their website.


Engage with schools in the local community, in particular middle and senior schools, to educate students (and teachers) about the water industry in general and career opportunities within the organisation. Most schools or school clusters have career advisors / coordinators who could be useful contacts. This could be through:

  • Offering site tours (ensuring appropriate WHS matters and permissions have been covered off).
  • Running competitions on matters relevant to the water industry e.g. posters / videos regarding water conservation; safe drinking water; designing water conservation inventions etc.
  • Having engaging employees talk to students about their careers and the value they add to the community.
  • Paid work placements.

Career Fairs/Job Fairs

For School Students

Career/Job Fairs are often thought of as relevant to school students and focusing on providing information regarding different employers and career / job pathways. Whilst these events do have their place, they often require a lot of effort from employer organisations and may have little return. To help achieve a better return on investment:

  • Talk to local schools to find out what the students are wanting and the best ways of providing this.
  • Be ready to take details of students displaying a genuine interest in working for the organisation (whether in the Water function or elsewhere). Follow up with those students to potentially provide work experience opportunities, or further discuss their area of interest in the organisation.

For Adults

Information from the University of Queensland indicates:

  • Most people work for approximately 45 years.
  • The average person changes jobs every 2 years and 9 months.
  • Most people change careers at least once in their lives
  • The average person tends to have 3 – 7 careers before they retire, and this number may be 5 – 7 for current and upcoming generations of workers.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates:

  • Job mobility for the year ending February 2023 remained at 9.5% for the second year in a row, the highest rate in a decade.
  • Of the 13.8 million people employed in February 2023, 56% had been in their current job for less than 5 years. 21% had been in their job for less than 1 year.
  • Job mobility rose in most industries with the largest increases in electricity, gas, water and waste services (5.8% to 10%).

This data reinforces the opportunities that exist for organisations to entice those already in the workforce into a new career in the water industry. One way of showcasing this is through Career / Job Fairs (or similar).

Consider running these:
  • In the local region potentially tied in with other planned events (e.g. Multi-Cultural Days, Camping and Boating Expos, the annual Show or other events), in appropriate locations (e.g. shopping centres).
  • In collaboration with other members in the same QRWRAP region at various events / locations.

Top Tips

Place importance on the skills and attributes a potential applicant has gained in other roles that are transferrable to roles in the water / wastewater industry.

Apprenticeship wages are unlikely to be sustainable for potential applicants who are adults rather than school leavers. For someone with no prior direct experience in the industry however with transferrable skills and the right behavioural attributes, employment could be offered at the Level 5 Queensland Local Government Industry (Stream B) Award – State 2017 on the basis a relevant Certificate II is able to be attained within an identified timeframe.

Reinforce / promote the career and remuneration progression opportunities that are available within the organisation.

Reinforce the total value of the remuneration available rather than just the salary component.


Existing Employees

There can be considerable value in filling vacant positions internally:

  • Existing knowledge regarding the organisational culture, structure, processes and environment.
  • Demonstration of a commitment to advancing the careers of employees.
  • Retention.

When vacant positions within a team / function are filled by internal employees, the successful applicant is more likely to have been sourced from within that team / function. Given the average person tends to have 3 – 7 careers before they retire, an opportunity exists to recruit to vacant water industry positions from elsewhere within the organisation.

Top Tips

Develop an organisational career pathway to demonstrate to employees the career options available to them without moving to another employer.

Support employees in their career path through career conversations, identifying required skills in different positions and supporting them in attaining these.

Provide opportunities for employees to “test the waters” in other roles through job shadowing (e.g. one day / week for a period of time), short term job rotations, internal career / job fairs

Place importance on the skills and attributes a potential candidate has gained in other roles.

Partnership with other organisations

There are numerous organisations that can assist in supporting employers source potential applicants

Following is a sample of these that are likely able to provide support across all QWRAP regions. Each region may also have access to other such organisations with more of a local focus:

  • RSL Queensland runs the RSL Employment Program. There are 5,500 people leaving the Australian Defence Force (ADF) each year. This represents a considerable pool of potential candidates with a range of skills, attributes and experiences including in trades. The Employment Program supports ADF veterans, and partners of current / former ADF members find meaningful employment. Since 2018, they have supported over 720 veterans secure civilian employment following a career in the ADF. They have also supported more than 280 ADF and veteran partners into jobs. Employers have included Urban Utilities, Ergon, Energex, Veolia, ThinkWater, and SEE Civil. Partner employers can also advertise vacant positions on the RSL QLD Employment Program Jobs Board. qldwater has a partnership established with RSL Queensland and can assist members in accessing this.
  • Department of Employment and Workplace Relations provides access to a range of helpful information and free services including:
  • Access to webinars and resources providing information on recruitment suggestions.
  • Through Workforce Australia, access to the Local Jobs program that support accelerated reskilling, upskilling and employment pathways. The program is designed to meet current and future workforce needs of local communities.
  • Employment Facilitators in 51 employment regions that bring together local employment and skills services, employers and community organisations to connect people to training, job opportunities and support services.
  • Local Jobs and Skills Taskforces in each employment region. Members work collaboratively to develop local solutions to assist employer workforce needs and help people in getting skilled for employment.
  • Financial support to hire new staff / apprentices.
  • Hiring overseas workers / migrants.
  • Launch into Work program which supports the delivery of pre-employment projects co-designed with the hiring employer. The aim is to provide participating individuals with the skills, experience and confidence needed to start work. The projects include training, practical activities in the workplace and mentoring.
  • CareerSeekers is a not-for-profit organisation supporting refugees and people seeking asylum who are either currently studying at university or wanting to restart their professional career in Australia. The program offers support to participants and employment partners before, during and post internship. Participants with tertiary qualification and professional work experience from their country of origin undertake paid 12-week internships with an employer. This provides local experience, a local reference and help to establish professional networks. University students studying full-time undertake paid internships during university breaks to link studies with practical work experience. Employer partners include EDL Energy, CS Energy, and Viva Energy.
  • Clontarf Foundation exists to improve the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. The foundation partners with over 200 organisations across Australia and can provide:
  • Access to work-ready Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have completed Year 12 and are searching for employment.
  • Access to Aboriginal and Torress Strait Isander students keen to engage in school-based traineeships and/or work experience while they study.
  • Access to Employment Forums with Year 11 and 12 male Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander students. Clontarf Industry Partners get the opportunity to discuss training and employment opportunities with the students. Groups of students rotate to each of the partner’s tables where they have seven (7) minutes to speak with the students and hand out promotional materials about specific programs on offer like cadetships, traineeships, apprenticeships, or higher education pathways. qldwater has worked with the Clontarf Foundation as a way of connecting with this potential workforce.

QWRAP members include over 60 Councils. There are opportunities to collaborate on alternative / innovative regional arrangements for managing services. Examples of this have included the Regional Water Industry Worker Project, the Joint Training for Certificate III in water Industry Operations and SEQ Study Collaboration Tour projects, and the WBB CCTV Student Project. Possible future projects to aid in the recruitment / retention of water industry employees could include but are not limited to -

Development of marketing collateral to promote the water industry and working for Council as a career of choice.

Job rotations between member organisations to support career pathways

Joint Career / Job Fairs

Shared graduate placements


The ADF has a strong presence in various locations across Queensland to which its’ members may be posted. Many members have partners who re-locate and may be seeking employment. An opportunity exists to establish relationships with a local ADF presence given the strong support they provide to partners to assist them in assimilating into their new community. Initiatives such as orientation programs for partners may allow employers to meet potential applicants and showcase job / career opportunities.


The mining resource sector also has a strong presence in various Queensland locations. Many employees may have brought their partners who may also be seeking employment. Consider establishing relationships with the local mining presence to promote job opportunities in your organisation. If this is not possible, consider ways of promoting the job opportunities to the broader community.

Visa Holders

Employing non-permanent residents / non-citizens is an option so long as the individual has an appropriate visa that permits employment whilst in Australia. This is generally a lower risk, less costly and less complicated approach to sponsoring an individual to a nominated position. Individual organisations will likely have clear policies regarding employment of non-permanent residents / non-citizens that will need to be adhered to.


Sponsorship can be costly ($10 000 - $20 000 / employee) and may introduce a degree of risk (the sponsored employee is generally ‘tied’ to the employer for the duration of the visa regardless of performance issues), this approach can certainly fill much needed skills shortages gaps. There are three (3) employer sponsored visa options:

  • Temporary Skills Shortage Visa – Subclass 482 which allows a maximum stay of four (4) years. The processing time is between 8 – 70 days. This visa allows for the possibility of transferring over to a permanent visa (subclass 186) through the Temporary Resident Transition Stream after two (2) years. This option ties the individual (the Applicant) to the employer (the Sponsor) and is a good option if the position needs to be filled urgently and the Applicant is offshore or in Australia on a visa with work restrictions. It is possible to transfer sponsorship to another employer, however this is costly. The subclass 482 may be an option employers may wish to consider as a retention strategy.
  • Skilled Employer Regional Sponsored (Provisional) Visa – Subclass 494 allows a stay of five (5) years for those Applicants sponsored to work in regional areas. Processing time can take between 5 - 16 months. This visa allows for the possibility of transferring to a permanent visa (subclass 191) after three (3) years. This option ties the Applicant to the Sponsor and is another option for employers seeking to retain staff as the Applicant cannot be considered for a permanent visa through the SkillSelect program for the first three (3) years.
  • Employer Nomination Scheme – Subclass 186 which is a permanent visa allowing an Applicant to remain in Australia indefinitely. Processing time can take between 3 – 13 months and the Applicant is expected to work for the Sponsor for at least two (2) years although this can be difficult to enforce. This is unlikely to be a suitable option for filling a role urgently where the Applicant is offshore or in Australia on a visa with work restrictions. It is an expensive process and there is no guarantee the Applicant will remain with the employer for an extended period.
  • Shared graduate placements
Whilst the steps involved for each option vary to a degree, common features include:
  1. Stage 1 – Sponsorship Application: the employer needs to become an approved sponsor.
  2. Stage 2 - Nomination Application: the employer nominates the Applicant to work in a skilled occupation. There is the need to demonstrate a genuine need for the position (e.g., labour shortages, current work demand) and that there is a genuine skills shortage in the region. The Applicant must be offered a contract for the life of the visa with a minimum salary of $70 000 plus superannuation (based on 38 hours / week). It must also be demonstrated that the Terms and Conditions of employment are equivalent to an Australian employee performing in the same role.
  3. Stage 3 – Visa Application: the Applicant needs to meet specific criteria including having the appropriate skills for the nominated position, possessing competent English, have 2- 3 years relevant work experience and pass health / character checks.

The current approximate cost to an employer for sponsoring an individual is $10 000 if no lawyer or migration agent is used. Costs can be approximately $20 000 if a lawyer or migration agent is used however may be an effective use of resources given these services familiarity with the required steps. This cost cannot be recovered from the employee.

Please note that where an applicant is over the age of 50 years of age when the visa is awarded, Australian Government regulations may not permit visa extensions.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has information on Hiring overseas workers / migrants.

Migration Queensland is a useful website with resources for working in Queensland.

Trade and Investment Queensland includes resources on attracting workers to Queensland.

Assessing Applicants

How to sort the wheat from the chaff

Each organisation will typically have its’ own policies and procedures regarding applicant assessment.

In general, there are three (3) key elements to this:

  1. Shortlisting applicants
  2. Interviewing
  3. Referee checks

If there is a job description for the advertised role containing specific essential selection criteria, the selection panel must be confident that any applicant found suitable, fully meets the criteria.

Water Treatment Plant

Top Tips

Communicate with applicants in a timely manner. If someone has applied for a job in your organisation, it is likely they are applying for roles elsewhere.

An interview is not an interrogation. The aim is to gain information from the applicant regarding their ‘hard’ skills (technical knowledge / expertise ) and ‘soft’ skills (interpersonal skills, communication skills, problem solving abilities, initiative etc).

Use behavioural questioning to better understand the personal attributes an applicant brings. Ask for assistance in developing these from the organisation’s HR function if unsure or refer to the Behavioural Interview Guide included in this toolkit.

Talk to referees. either in person or by videoconference. This is far superior to using a through a written reference as it allows for additional questioning and ‘digging deeper.’

The panel will be able to notice non-verbal cues such as hesitations, change in the tone of voice.

If more than one applicant is assessed as suitable, consider submitting a case to employ an additional person to assist with workload management including covering leave periods by other team members. If this is not possible, advise the suitable but not successful applicant/s of existing processes in place to retain their applicant information in in the event a vacant position becomes available. These are generally covered by the recruitment platform including disclosures about how candidates information is stored and the storage period.

Retention Strategies

How to manage increased job mobility

Given the significant increase in job mobility within the industry, with the main reason cited for leaving was to ‘get a better job or just wanted a change’, it is critical to focus on retaining staff. There are many reasons employees leave a role including:

There are many reasons employees leave a role including:

For a new, better job opportunity

A difficult work environment / culture / problematic relationship with a supervisor

Lack of opportunities for professional growth in current job


Seeking a change in career

Whilst an organisation cannot make changes across all of these aspects to encourage employees to remain, there are certain aspects it can control and influence. A key partner in this is the organisation’s People and Culture / Human Resources function which will either have the in-house expertise to assist or know where to access this.

Logan Pipe Breakthrough

Top Tips

Gather /analyse data on why employees are leaving the organisation and if possible, the water / wastewater teams. This will allow for targeted interventions such as Work-Life Balance initiatives, altered approach to rostering, increased focus on inclusion and diversity, the implementation of well-being programs.

Gather / analyse data on why employees are attracted to work for / remain employed by the organisation and use this to develop an EVP for internal and external promotion. It is important to consider generational differences in what is valued in the workplace. A 2024 Workplace Engagement Index found for example, Early Millennials (27-35yo) valued connection and belonging in the workplace more than any other generation in the workforce.

Work consistently towards a constructive workplace culture that encourages achieving goals through developing employees, teamwork, adaptability and effectiveness. Approaches to this may include using a recognised tool to first assess the workplace culture, conducting staff surveys and / or focus groups. Improving a workplace culture is not a quick process and requires commitment to change management from the organisational leaders. Culture differs between teams within organisations therefore it is important to develop / implement strategies that are relevant to a particular team.

Focus on improving employee engagement through approaches such as:

Supporting employees (and their families) through an Employee Assistance / Support program. Promote the availability of this.

Ensuring appropriate formal and informal avenues for two-way communication within the organisation so leaders can better understand what employees need.

Communicating the value of the work being done to the organisation and broader community. People are more engaged when they feel valued and have fulfilling role responsibilities where they can make a difference.

Providing management / leadership development to employees responsible for managing / supervising team members. Too often people are promoted into management roles based on their technical skills without receiving the appropriate support / development in their management practice to deal with people related complexities.

Developing an organisational career pathway to demonstrate to employees the options available to progress rather than considering a move to another employer.

Supporting employees in their career path through regular one-on-one and career conversations, identifying required skills in different positions and supporting their attainment through training, job rotation, coaching / mentoring.

Take formal (and informal) complaints regarding poor behaviour seriously. Always seek advice from the organisation’s HR function as complaints must be managed in accordance with existing industrial instruments, policy and procedure to ensure that the process is not compromised.

Consider the current approach to recognising and rewarding employees. Are there opportunities to improve on this? Remuneration is only one of the determining factors relating to attracting and retaining employees. If an employee does not feel valued, they may well leave a role, or worse, remain and become disengaged / toxic. Ensure formal programs are organised, fair and affordable. Clear policy, procedures and communication about how the program will operate should provide clarity and clear expectations, including the criteria used to assess performance and allocated rewards / recognition. Formal Reward and Recognition Programs could include:

Employee of the Month programs where nominations are received and assessed. Awards could include a certificate or vouchers for appropriate goods / services.

Visual recognition on a bulletin board or “wall of fame.”

A trophy that rotates across employees or teams that have been recognised for achieving a particular milestone, goal or delivered customer service excellence.

Don’t wait for monthly or annual award nominations. There needs to be opportunities for employees to be thanked (and to say thanks) at any time. Informal recognition might include:

“Say thanks” where employees have access to thankyou cards to send to other colleagues who have provided support / assistance.

Verbal recognition during meetings.

Team morning / afternoon teas or lunches.

Featured stories on the organisation’s preferred social media provider.

Case Studies

Show us some examples of best practice HR/IR projects

Innovations to roster, structure and remuneration

Mackay Regional Council were challenged to recruit enough water / wastewater operators to cover all activities despite two (2) large service stream plants having been outsourced to a private contractor.

The workforce at the time had an average age of 57 years, rosters varied depending on location and staff could not be deployed across operations due to skills gaps. A decision made by the Council in 2018 to bring the operations of these plants inhouse, was the catalyst for a considerable re-think of how operations needed to be run.

Water Testing

Following research, consultation and negotiations with relevant unions, the following innovations were implemented:

  • Restructuring to combine water and wastewater teams into one, whose employees could work across the region rather than in isolated silos.
  • Designing a roster for operators that allowed them to move across sites / operations and better manage fatigue. External consultants specialising in roster design were engaged to develop a roster which could balance business needs, employee work/life balance, health and safety (specifically fatigue) and cost. This included treating weekends as full and normal days. The resultant roster is based on an eight (8) week cycle where in weeks 1 and 2 an employee works seven (7) days on / 2 – 3 days off. The days worked then reduce to 5, then 4 and then 3-day weeks. In the last week of the cycle, an employee has a minimum of 5 days off before re-starting the cycle.
  • Annualising salaries with on-call and overtime allowances rolled into an employee’s salary. This approach provided operators with wage stability and improved superannuation. It also improved budgeting and forecasting of staff salaries and aided recruitment as the advertised salaries are inclusive of allowances. Efficiencies in operations were also gained due to there being no monetary incentive to work overtime.
  • Career pathways were enhanced for employees by encouraging and become dual-ticketed. This reduced the skills gaps, enabled the deployment of individuals across sites and enhanced workplace culture. This also resulted in greater remuneration for employees as they gained qualifications and took on additional responsibilities.
  • A change in thinking to recruitment such as recruiting non-qualified individuals with the right attitude and aptitude as Assistant Operators. Employees at this level were then encouraged and supported to complete a relevant qualification at which stage they could be progress to Level 7 (of the Queensland Local Government Industry (Stream B) Award – State 2017).
  • Moving from a ‘command and control’ management style to more a more constructive approach where collaboration is a key feature together with improving asset maintenance, building engagement and driving innovation.

Innovations to Training Operators

Burdekin Shire Council and more recently the Charters Towers Regional Council changed their approach to training Operators in Certificate III Water Industry Operations (or equivalent). This was driven by the desire to train as many staff as possible to support their career development and manage the issues associated with attending training away from home – cost of accommodation / travel and unavailability for participating in an on-call rosters. This was achieved by engaging a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) to deliver on-site training over a seven (7) month period.

Before this could occur, the Councils conducted a training needs analysis of team members in Water / Wastewater Operations function. They worked collaboratively with the RTO to develop a training matrix and content. Training modules were conducted each month over three (3) days for between 7-9 Operators both in the classroom and in the field. The estimated cost was less than $10,000/person. A Certificate III training guide used with a specific group of trainees is available here.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that this had a positive impact on both recruitment and retention. Existing employees felt more valued and because they could see a career pathway for them, did not leave to take up other opportunities. There was a ripple effect where friends and family of employees could see their development and progression, and this assisted recruitment to vacant positions.

Charters Towers Regional Council recently engaged a RTO to deliver a Chlorination Course and Water Analysis training. It is open to collaborating with other QWRAP members who may want to have their own team members attend.

Recruitment / Filling Vacancies / Retention

Burke Shire Council has had some success in sourcing relief water operators through recruitment agencies. As a member of the North-West Industry Council they are collaborating with other members to develop a relief pool of operators that could be shared amongst member organisations.

Cairns Regional Council is taking a multi-pronged approach to enhance the attractiveness of working in the industry.

  • Better promotion of the employment benefits such as salary packaging, salary sacrifice arrangements and the ability to purchase additional recreation leave.
  • Actively head-hunting employees as well as advertising vacant positions.
  • Using multi-level position descriptions when advertising which allows recruitment of individuals without qualifications, who are then upskilled once employed and able to progress to higher levels.
  • Engaging with community organisations and schools through Pathways Programs which include industry tours and supported work experience for participants. The Council has also increased their focus on employing apprentices and are utilising SQW Funded Apprenticeships and Traineeships.
  • Considering the development of a “Day in the Life” video to better promote industry roles in Council to the broader community.
  • Better use of contemporary recruitment approaches including advertising roles on Facebook, Instagram, at cinemas, on YouTube and using LinkedIn as a headhunting tool.
  • Focusing on diversity and inclusion with a new Equal Employment Opportunity statement, inclusive recruitment, the development of a tile on the Council website of the Diversity and Inclusion Plan and featuring good news stories from a diverse range of Council employees.

Other programs include:

  • The First Peoples Employment Pathway Program commencing with networking, work experience, leading into traineeships/apprenticeships, then employment.
  • The Migrant Settlement Services Employment Pathway Program which also features networking, work experience, traineeships/apprenticeships and employment.
  • The Visa Sponsorship Pilot which paved the way in recruitment practices for hiring managers to consider applicants with working rights in Australia.

Isaac Regional Council has taken the following approaches to increase the attractiveness of working for council and in the water / wastewater industry

Offering subsidised accommodation as part of the remuneration package.

Supporting training for apprentices and ‘operators in training’ up to the Certificate III level.

Encouraging and supporting operators to become dual-ticketed.

Guaranteeing ‘operators in training’ permanency on successful completion of relevant training.

Clearly outlining the remuneration and employee benefits available when advertising positions.

Researching innovations to rostering to support great work-life balance.

Regular Careers Expos.

Piloting a vacation exchange program with two other councils where under-graduate engineers were employed on holiday work placements. The participants entered into an employment contract with all three (3) councils which gave them exposure to regional areas.

Western Downs Regional Council faces strong competition for employees with the mining sector, which due to the 12-hour work days, advertise roles with considerable remuneration.

To address this, they emphasise the following benefits of working for Council including:

The work-life balance available to employees and benefits of a more relaxed regional lifestyle.

Flexible work practices.

The availability of corporate health insurance.

The strong focus on well-being as evidenced by the employment of a dedicated Well-being Officer.

A strong training program aimed at ‘growing local.’ The focus is on both professional and personal development.

Offering ongoing employment to trainees and apprentices who successfully complete their training. Eight (8) trainees were recently ‘fast-tracked’ through their program.