Profile of an occupation – hydraulic technician

As well as being important transport routes for both humans and goods, Germany’s many rivers provide places of recreation and valuable habitats. The job of hydraulic technicians is to take care of the maintenance of these navigation lanes and of other waterways. This occupational description sets out their tasks, points out the impacts climate change has on their work, and explains how trainee project developed from these.

Sustainable reconstruction of riverbank protection in the Ahr Valley as part of a trainee project

Tasks in and around water

Hydraulic technicians ensure that people can live safely alongside rivers. They are responsible for maintaining navigation lanes under the control of both the Federal Government and the federal states as well as for looking after lakes, other bodies of water and the coastal area. Their remit further includes protection of the waterfront and disaster prevention. This includes maintaining locks, keeping shore areas clear, and taking care of flood protection and ice defence measures.

Hydraulic technicians maintain the fabric of dams, of control structures, of riverbank protection measures, and of systems for coastal and island protection. They monitor weirs, reservoirs and drinking water barrages. They carry out minor remedial and upkeep works and also deal with more major repairs. Hydraulic technicians also check that water depth is sufficient for ships and ensure that the waterways are free of obstacles. Because work frequently takes place outside, hydraulic technicians must be prepared to work in all kinds of weather.

The work hydraulic technicians perform also helps with implementation of the European Water Framework Directive, the primary goal of which is to achieve a good ecological status for all bodies of water.
Hydraulic technicians may work for one of the 17 waterways and shipping offices located across Germany, but can also find employment with water boards, dam management departments and dike associations. As of the cut-off date of 31.12.2022, there were 393 trainee hydraulic technicians in Germany. These trainees are spread across 14 federal states (see figure). Vocational school and extra-company training takes place centrally at one of two VET training hubs located in Koblenz (Rhineland Palatinate) and Kleinmachnow (Brandenburg).

Map of Germany shows regional distribution of trainee hydraulic technicians and of federal waterways
Figure: Regional distribution of trainee hydraulic technicians and of federal waterways

Download Figure (1.2 MB)

Impacts of climate change

Hydraulic technicians experience the ramifications of climate change at first hand during their daily routine. Floods, low waters, torrential rain and droughts all exert a direct impact on waterways and on their management. The natural catastrophe which occurred in the Ahr Valley in June 2021 brought home just how important this occupation is, for example in terms initiating measures for adapting to climate change.
In 2022, the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) instigated a special scheme to support reconstruction in the region. During the course of this project, over 100 trainees restored the bank areas of the River Ahr to a natural state. The aim was to stabilise the banks whilst at the same time improving flood protection by giving the Ahr more space again. An engineering method previously only tried in the north of Germany was deployed in order to bring about long-term stabilisation. This approach involved the use of willow twigs. These begin to sprout once placed in the ground, and the roots formed then offer additional reinforcement in a natural manner.

Special term – bio-engineering

Bio-engineering involves protecting the waterfront by adding vegetation in the form of copses, reeds, grasses and herbs and by adopting near-natural construction methods. This creates habitats for aquatic birds and small animals. Elastic reinforcement of riverbanks curbs the attack force of water and ice.

Digitalisation in hydraulic engineering

Ongoing digitalisation is opening up an opportunity to engage with new technologies, procedures and systems. Digital topographical maps can be used to chart the repair requirements of embankments. 3D laser scans of water beds allow navigation channels to be monitored, and robots are also being deployed for the inspection and maintenance of waterways and water engineering structures.

What possibilities are available after training?

A multitude of continuing training opportunities and advanced qualifications are available following successful completion of initial training. Continuing training may take place in areas such as hydraulic engineering, concrete construction, nature conservation, surveying or buildings restoration in order to keep professional knowledge up to date. Professional advancement options include examinations leading to the qualifications of certified senior hydraulic technician or certified nature and landscape conservation specialist and continuing technician training in the specialism of construction engineering with a main focus on civil engineering. A subsequent bachelor’s-level course of study may be pursued in subjects such as Construction Engineering, Water and Soil Management, or Water Technology.

At a glance

  • Last updated: 2004
  • Duration of training: 3 years
  • Responsibility: Trade and industry/public sector
  • Training structure: Mono-occupation
  • DQR reference level: 4
  • Advanced vocational training: Certified senior hydraulic technician; certified nature and landscape conservation specialist 

Further links

Occupational information from BIBB

“Structuring Training” series of publications

Video on the trainee project in the Ahr Valley (in German)

Podcast on the profile of the occupation featuring two trainees (in German)


(All links: status 17/01/2024)

(Compiled by Arne Schambeck)

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2024): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin