Paul Campbell

Paul Campbell, Scottish Water, head of learning and organisational development

Water goes hi-tech

Paul Campbell, head of learning and organisational development at Scottish Water, explains why the publicly-owned company isn’t only focused on engineers – but also on how digital technology could revolutionise his industry.

At first sight, few substances appear as low-tech as water. It’s the liquid that falls from the sky, that collects in lochs, that keeps us all alive.

Yet Scottish Water is turning the wet stuff hi-tech. As part of its mission to deliver 1.37 billion litres of clean drinking water every day and take away 921 million litres of waste water, the publicly-owned company is harnessing not only the latest innovations in engineering, but is also looking at the ways digital technology can transform its business.

The organisation is looking at how it can analyse “big data” to better manage the 30,124 miles of water pipes and 31,814 of sewer pipes that connect 2.5 million houses and 156,000 businesses to more than 2,000 treatment assets across Scotland, covering an area of 30,810 square miles. Already, there’s far more to Scottish Water than copper or plastic pipes.

At the heart of making sure Scottish Water has the right skills to handle these technological advances is Paul Campbell, the company’s head of learning and organisational development. Campbell and his team make sure that the business’ 4,000 employees have the skills that they need to service its five million customers.

“We’re always trying to be proactive and on the front foot,” he explains. “It’s about trying to anticipate where the gaps and shortages might be in the future.

“Skills gaps are quite specific – they’re at an individual level – while skills shortages tend to be at an organisational or industry-wide level. There will be certain areas where it might be difficult to find people if you’re recruiting in the market, but generally for us it’s more about the direction of travel, what we anticipate will happen in the future and what type of skills we think we’re going to need. Then it’s about putting in place the people, systems and structures to build these.

“Technical skills are becoming ever more important. They are anyway for us as a highly-technical organisation, given the nature of what we do with water supplies and waste water treatment and protecting the environment.

“More and more, scientific skills, digital skills, technological skills are becoming ever-more important because everything is becoming increasingly digitised and technology is beginning to permeate through everything. Digital skills in particular for employees at all levels are becoming increasingly important – we’ve got a team of our graduates working on this at the moment, to work out where some of the gaps and shortages might be so we can plan more effectively for what we have to do.

“We’re looking at data science, data analytics and information management. Clearly, we’re no different from any organisation that wants to have that insight, so that’s an area we’ve been developing in recent years.”

Campbell highlights how society is becoming increasingly complex, with more information flowing more readily, and points to the needs to have the right skills to cope with that complexity. Scenario planning and thinking about what the future holds is becoming ever-more important.

“We need people with analytical and problem-solving skills,” he explains. “We also need leaders and managers to be able to support and lead their employees in an increasingly digitised environment, energising, enabling and engaging their teams.

“In the past, the work environment was much more face-to-face, whereas now it’s becoming much more virtual. Our leaders need skills that allow them to be productive and effective across increasingly dispersed networks of people.

“This isn’t just about using technology it’s also about the softer areas, like emotional intelligence. It’s not as easy to read someone’s body language or gauge their tone of voice when interactions are happening virtually. These days we are looking for our leaders to have intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ) and digital intelligence (DQ).

“Scottish Water is already using information technology (IT) to break down geographic barriers, adopting agile forms of working so its employees can work from home and from agile hubs across Scotland, something that is highly valued by its employees, although there are elements of some roles where this doesn’t fit so well,” Campbell points out.

“For some roles, engineers have to be out in the field, visiting a treatment works or fixing a pipe in the ground. But, in general, technology is overcoming some of the challenges associated with geography. For us, the future is all about building the capacity for people and technology to work together in order to adapt to a new and exciting future.”

The company covers a third of Great Britain’s landmass. It has water and waste treatment works and workers spread all along our nation’s 6,800 miles of coastline. “Aberdeen used to be an area in which it was tricky to recruit engineers,” Campbell remembers. “The oil and gas industry could always pay them more.

“Those pressures have eased in recent years following the fall in the oil price. It can sometimes be a challenge to recruit engineers to work on the islands, like Orkney and Shetland or the more remote islands in the Western Isles.”

One of Scottish Water’s most-impressive methods for dealing with any skills gaps is through its internal skills academies. “Our skills academies are designed to blend and harness ‘wisdom and youth’,” Campbell explains. “Our workforce has a lot of experience and wisdom, but the average age has been rising over time. At the same time, we have a lot of apprentices joining us in a broad range of areas.

“Our skills academies take experienced engineers out of the field to work in the learning and talent development team. We give them the skills they need to become trainers and educators, so they can teach other people in the business.

“They pass on their experience and knowledge and wisdom. They don’t just take people on a training course – they also then go out with them into the field to observe them in practice, so they can see that they’ve learned the skills and that they’re applying the knowledge that they were taught on the course.

“It’s about filling those skills gaps on an individual basis. They work with individuals on a very detailed level.

“We can also use the skills academies to test innovations as well. If there are new pieces of technology or new ideas then we can put them to the test.”

Campbell knows the benefits of apprenticeship schemes first-hand. He undertook his own apprenticeship with Strathclyde Water back in 1993-7 at the same time as studying for first his City & Guilds qualifications and then a higher national certificate (HNC) in water operations with management at Cardonald College in Glasgow.

After control of water shifted from the old regional councils to three water authorities, Campbell switched to a training role with West of Scotland Water. After the three authorities were merged to create Scottish Water, he continued in organisational development and talent development positions, progressing through the ranks, completing a master of science degree in learning and development and going on to become the head of learning and organisational development.

Scottish Water doesn’t work in isolation when it comes to skills. The organisation works with numerous partners including Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and is one of the active members of its collaboration groups, forums and networking groups and it has also participated in the Energy and Utilities Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy: 2020 with Energy & Utility Skills.

The company also makes full use of the entire family of apprenticeships, from Foundation Apprenticeships through Modern Apprenticeships and on to the new Graduate-Level Apprenticeships (GLAs). “We work very closely with higher and further education institutions,” adds Campbell. “We’ve created learning pathways, so people can gain qualifications from entry level all the way through to a master’s degree.

“Clyde College is our partner for entry-level qualifications and HNCs. We’ve then worked with the Open University to bridge from the entry level and HNC through to degree level and with Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to link this pathway for water and wastewater management all the way through to its master’s degree programme, something that supports the ambition for Scotland to become a ‘Hydro Nation’.”

Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) – the Scottish Government’s seven-year skills strategy, which was launched in 2014 – is also a key focus for Scottish Water. The programme was created in response to the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, which was led by Sir Iain Wood, the former chief executive and later chairman of energy services giant Wood Group.

Scottish Water has been heavily involved in the regional DYW group in Glasgow, where it has worked with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, creating partnerships with schools. “In the past, businesses would have complained that schools don’t give pupils the skills they need, but there’s much more of a realisation now that the only way schools will develop the skills that businesses need is if businesses actively work with schools and young people while they’re there,” Campbell explains.

“We have a formal partnership with St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Glasgow – which was set up through the regional DYW group – and we’ve been working with them for a couple of years now. We have also been working closely with four other high schools along the route of our on-going Shieldhall tunnel project, which is our flagship engineering project, representing £100m of investment within an overall £250m investment in waste water infrastructure across Greater Glasgow. We’ve done some quite specialist, detailed work with the young people that we wouldn’t have had the chance to do if we were just popping in to give a talk.

“Our female graduates and apprentices have been going into St Andrew’s to engage with female pupils in second year before they make their subject choices. That’s encouraged more girls to study the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

“We’re getting good results and feedback from that. We hope that some of those pupils will go on to study science and engineering and may eventually come to work with us – but, even if they don’t, hopefully we’ve given them a good impression of our organisation and the vital role we play in Scottish society and we hope they’ll become advocates for us in the future.”