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Employee Development: 4 Effective Best Practices from Northumbrian Water Group

9 July 2024

Employers looking to enjoy the benefits of a thriving, engaged workforce must make development a key priority in their business strategy.

Employee development is a vital element of crafting a dynamic, thriving workplace culture.

Listed among the 2024 UK’s Best Workplace for Development, Northumbrian Water Group recognises the importance of ensuring equitable L&D for all, and has implemented a comprehensive employee development strategy to ensure its colleagues have ample opportunities for professional growth.

Keep reading to discover 4 inspiring people practices from this strategy that are applicable to companies of any size and industry.

Who are Northumbrian Water Group?

Northumbrian Water Group provides water and wastewater services to their customers in the North East of England, trading as Northumbrian Water (NW), and water services only to their customers in the south east of England, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water (ESW). Purpose is at the heart of what they do, and treating their 3,000+ employees right is no exception.

Some of their standout Trust Index employee survey scores include:

"I support the organisations vision and values"


"When you join the company, you are made to feel welcome"


"My line manager/supervisor is someone that I can trust"


This commitment to fostering an exceptional workplace culture has resulted in the company being ranked on multiple UK’s Best Workplaces Lists™ since 2021, including the UK’s Best Workplace for Women™,  UK’s Best Workplace for Wellbeing™, and, most recently, UK’s Best Workplace for Development™.

The business benefits of investing in employee development

Organisations that empower their employees to expand their horizons, acquire new skills, and progress in their careers set the stage for both individual and company-wide growth.

For employees, learning & development opportunities foster a sense of connection and purpose at work, and are fast becoming a primary concern. In fact, the top 2 priorities for 18 to 34-year-olds when considering a new job are opportunities for career growth within the company, and opportunities to learn and develop new skills.

For businesses, there are tangible advantages, too. In a survey by Great Place To Work, UK HR professionals ranked employee engagement, retention and filling skills gaps among the top benefits of investing in employee development.

With businesses struggling to hold on to top talent; the national skills shortage costing UK businesses an estimated £6.6 billion annually; and the data proving that happy, engaged employees lead to better business outcomes, that’s a pretty strong business case for the importance of L&D.

At Northumbrian Water Group, an impressive 83% of the 2,867 colleagues surveyed told us that they "want to work here for a long time”, and 81% agree that “taking everything into account, Northumbrian Water Group is a great place to work.”

4 Effective employee development practices Northumbrian Water Group are implementing in their culture

1. Supporting employees’ digital literacy

Equipping employees with the skills to thrive in an increasingly digital working world is vital to ensuring they feel empowered to fulfil their maximum potential.

This is where digital literacy training, described by the BBC as a ‘workplace non-negotiable’, comes into play.

“Northumbrian Water Group have embedded over 80 digital champions across the organisation”, explains Michael Moore, Senior Talent Acquisition & Development Manager. “These colleagues have support digital literacy and train others across the organisation in how to use key software. They have also been integral in implementing a new HR software and were the first port of call for any colleagues who have queries about the new system.”

Programmes like these are part of the reason that 84% of colleagues at Northumbrian Water Group agree that they are “given the resources and equipment to do my job” – 13 percentage points higher than the national average.


Untitled design (10)-1Useful Read: What is Internal Mobility and Why Does it Matter?


2. Leadership and management training

Our research shows that management behaviour is one of four key drivers of a positive employee perception of development. Yet despite being make or break for employee growth, this is the lowest scoring area of the employee experience  on average for the UK population.

To combat this, award-winning workplaces like Northumbrian Water Group also invest in leadership & management training to ensure that managers understand how to lead fairly and with empathy. 

Their ‘Aspiring Managers’ programme, for example, prepares colleagues to step into their first management role with confidence.

Additionally, their Masterclass series upskills current managers and leaders to ensure they can best support and empower their team, with classes focusing on topics such as ‘purposeful communication’, ‘supporting colleagues through change’, and ‘health and wellbeing’.




“I believe the amount of responsibility, opportunity and training available/provided to me by my manager has been integral to me feeling so comfortable already.”

- Northumbrian Water Group colleagues

LD Report


3. Communicating and using employee feedback to improve

To ensure your people benefit fully from your employee development strategy, it must be a two-way conversation.

It’s imperative that organisations communicate effectively about the development options available to employees, and that they continually seek feedback to improve.

As part of Northumbrian Water Group’s appraisal process, managers have ‘Connect Conversations’ with their teams at various points during the year to discuss wellbeing, development, and performance.

The company runs monthly workshops for managers to help them prepare for these conversations and make sure they are meaningful and beneficial for both parties. 

In 2023 alone, one Connect training session focused specifically on development options was attended by over 100 colleagues.

Leaders also speak regularly with colleagues across teams to improve their training and development offering. And it shows: with the company's Trust Index employee survey scores for the statement “I am developing professionally working here” having improved by an impressive 10 percentage points from 2022 to 2023!

“We are offered ongoing support in our roles and opportunities to develop both with internal and external training available which is a huge benefit. People genuinely want to help you succeed and are there to offer up help and advice when you need it which helps with overall team morale and motivation, you are never in a situation where you are uncomfortable asking for guidance.”

- Northumbrian Water Group Colleague

Untitled design (10)-1Useful Read: Employee Training and Development: The Benefits of  Upskilling or Reskilling Your Team


4. Developing the future workforce through Apprenticeships

“Northumbrian Water Group is committed to nurturing the next generation of talent through our apprenticeship programmes, explains Michael Moore, Senior Talent Acquisition & Development Manager.

“These schemes provide young people with the opportunity to gain practical experience and industry-specific skills. Alongside on-the-job learning, apprentices also receive structured training and mentorship, paving the way for a successful career within the company.”

Introduced in 2023, the company’s new development pathway for apprentices allows the cohort to come together as a network frequently while developing critical skills for working life, such as communication and networking skills, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills.

Once again, the data clearly demonstrates the value these programmes deliver - with a 95% retention rate for apprentices and 96% of apprentices agreeing that they are “developing professionally working at NWG.”

Elevate your development strategy

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