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Water Network Operative

Source of Information: Next Step / DirectGov / Careers Advice Service

Water Network Operative

The Work

As a water network operative, you would look after the pipes, mains and pumping stations that supply homes and businesses with water and remove waste water and sewage.

In this job you would carry out planned maintenance work and also respond to emergencies such as burst pipes and major leaks. Your work could include:

  • digging holes by hand or with mechanical digging equipment
  • using maps and plans to trace where you need to dig
  • laying and repairing mains and pipes
  • using closed circuit TV to check for blockages in pipes and drains
  • clearing blockages using various tools and equipment such as high pressure water jets
  • installing water meters and hydrants
  • maintaining vehicles and equipment
  • recording details of jobs done and materials used
  • following safety procedures at all times.

Depending on your employer, you may be known by other job titles such as distribution technician, leakage operative or network service technician.

Hours and Environment

You would work around 37 hours a week, plus any overtime as necessary. You would usually work a rota with a mixture of day shifts and some unsocial hours, as work is often carried out at night or at the weekend to minimise disruption.

This is mainly an outdoor job, working in all weather. Conditions are often wet, dirty and smelly, so you would be provided with protective clothing and equipment. The work can involve bending, lifting and using heavy machinery.

Skills and Interests

  • good practical skills
  • physical fitness
  • willingness to work outside in all weather conditions
  • the ability to cope with unpleasant smells and substances
  • willingness to work unsocial hours
  • the ability to follow detailed instructions
  • awareness of health and safety
  • a polite and professional manner with the public.


You do not always need qualifications to work in water distribution, although you will need a good standard of general education. You should check entry requirements with individual employers.

However, you will often get into this type of work through an Apprenticeship scheme. For this, most employers ask for at least four GCSEs (A-C), including maths, English, and another relevant subject such as science, engineering or design and technology.

The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more about Apprenticeships, visit

If you are not joining the industry through an Apprenticeship, you will find it useful to have previous experience or qualifications in construction, plumbing, building services engineering or plant maintenance.


Your training will normally be a mixture of learning on the job from experienced staff, and some formal courses at a training centre. You will often also work towards one or more of the following qualifications:

  • NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3 in Network Construction Operations (Water Mainlaying or Servicelaying)
  • NVQ Level 2 in Distribution Control
  • NVQ Level 3 in Maintain Water Supply (Network).

See the Energy & Utility Skills website for more details and a list of training providers.

Employers will often want you to be registered in an appropriate safety passport scheme, such as one of the water industry schemes supported by the Energy & Utilities Skills Register (EUSR). See the EUSR website for more information.


You could be employed by regional water companies, or contractors that carry out engineering work on behalf of the regional water companies.

With experience, you could progress to team leader and into senior management. With further training and study, you could become an engineering technician or incorporated water engineer.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press, Jobcentre Plus, and employers' own websites.

You may find the following useful for job vacancies (links open in a new window):

Water UK (list of member companies)
SBWWI (list of member companies)
Utility Job Search

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.

Annual Income

  • Apprentices usually earn around 11,000 a year.
  • When qualified, this can rise to between 18,000 and 25,000.
  • Experienced workers and team leaders can earn around 25,000 to 32,000 a year.

Overtime and shift allowances can greatly increase salaries.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

last updated: Fri, 03 Feb 2006

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