At WEFTEC 2019 in Chicago, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water Dennis Lee Forsgren Jr., announced a new effort to help American utilities surmount the looming water-sector skills shortage expected in coming years.
EPA plans to release a draft of America’s Water Workforce Initiative for public comment by the end of this winter, Forsgren told the audience during Technical Session No. 200: Water Policy Update. A final plan for the program is due in spring.
“America’s Water Workforce Initiative will help us take meaningful steps together to recruit, retain, and support the water workforce,” Forsgren said. “The federal government serves as an important convener on this national issue and commits to provide federal leadership, seek close collaboration with partners, and work to bolster water careers — these elements encompass the three goal areas of the plan.”
The Water Sector’s Lurking Employment Crisis
According to a 2018 report from the Brookings Institution (Washington, D.C.), Renewing the water workforce: Improving water infrastructure and creating a pipeline to opportunity, approximately one-third of U.S. drinking water and wastewater operators will be eligible for retirement by 2028. Because the water workforce tends to be slightly older than the average for other sectors, thousands of water utilities will need to work toward filling vacancies to ensure they can continue meeting the needs of their communities.
“Building a dynamic and diverse water workforce for the 21st century is absolutely vital to continuing to deliver on our sector’s mission to protect public health and the environment,” said Tom Kunetz, 2018-2019 President of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.). “WEF is very grateful that EPA is collaborating with our organization and others to address critical workforce needs and believes the agency’s support will help advance current initiatives and better target federal efforts to the water sector.”
Existing Workforce Resources
Filling water-sector positions is difficult because many would-be operators, engineers, and scientists do not know about the opportunities the industry offers.
EPA and WEF each offer a number of resources to help raise awareness about the benefits of working for water. These include:
From CWEA and CA-NV AWWA:
- CA Water Jobs – Website with career paths, salary info and job openings
- CA Water Interns – Website where agencies can post internship opportunities for free
- Veterans in Water – profiles of veterans working in California’s water sector – send us your profiles of veteran team members
- AWWA’s Veterans Toolkit webpage – Tools for agencies prepare by AWWA
- From M.O.S. to J-O-B: A Guide for Applying Military Occupational Specialties to Civilian Drinking Water and Wastewater Operations – In many cases, military veterans already possess skills required for water-sector work. This EPA handbook outlines transitional paths between common military job functions and their water-sector counterparts. It also provides tips for water and wastewater utilities who wish to attract veterans as employees.
- A Selection of Training Programs for Water and Wastewater Operators – This compilation of EPA fact sheets describes training programs, internships, mentoring programs, and apprenticeships throughout the U.S. to help prospective water workers transition into the industry smoothly.
- “Water You Waiting For?” campaign – Videos produced by EPA introduce high-school and vocational technical-school students to water-sector opportunities, covering the importance of water treatment, typical job responsibilities, and career paths.
- “Work for Water” campaign – In summer 2019, WEF and the American Water Works Association (Denver, Colo.) established workforwater.org, a centralized hub that highlights ways to break into the water sector for a wide variety of applicant demographics.
- Water Leadership Institute – Conducted each year by WEF, the Water Leadership Institute program creates a pipeline to develop existing water-sector employees into industry leaders, offering a robust educational curriculum and prime networking opportunities. Applications for the 2020 Water Leadership Institute are due Jan. 9, 2020.
- WEF Career Center – This online job bank provides leads on dozens of new opportunities in the global water sector each month. Create an applicant profile or post available jobs at your facility to locate your next career move or fill highly skilled positions.
America’s Water Workforce Initiative will work in tandem with these programs to attract more talent to U.S. water resource recovery facilities, said Forsgren.
“We see the workforce challenge as a great opportunity to collaborate with you to find effective paths forward. This is the only way something this large and this important can be addressed successfully,” Forsgren said.