Educating The Next Generation Of Water Professionals

The entire water and wastewater industry is on notice.

We must deal with the fact that our entire industry will lose a significant portion of its current workforce to retirement in the next few years.

Details from a 2010 Water Sector Workforce Sustainability Initiative report from the American Water Works Association and the Water Research Foundation make the stakes pretty clear. The industry can expect a loss in its current workforce of 30 to 50 percent in the coming decade. And as those seasoned employees leave the workforce, years and decades of knowledge and expertise will be lost as well.

The Current State

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of drinking water and wastewater operators to grow by 6% between 2014 and 2024. As the population grows, demand for these services will increase, and the retirement of the baby-boomer generation will require that many operators be replaced.

Currently, it requires a workforce of over 380,000 highly skilled water and wastewater personnel to guarantee the public supply of safe drinking water and to protect our lakes, streams and groundwater. Advancements in water treatment and supply technology have increased the skills and training required of this workforce. Today’s water professionals are ultimately responsible for meeting stringent regulatory standards, replacing aging infrastructure, recruiting and training new operations specialists, and responding to and recovering from disasters.

NRWA Up To The Challenge

At PeopleService, we have been on the frontlines of this issue for many years and have always focused our attentions on seeking out and inspiring the next generation of water and wastewater workers required to fulfill the needs of our growing industry. But we aren’t the only ones dedicated to this cause.

The National Rural Water Association, the nation’s largest water utility association with over 31,000 members, is addressing the impending retirement bubble with the creation of the NRWA Workforce Advancement Center. The center is designed specifically to attract new talent to the industry.

NRWA CEO Sam Wade says the goal is to, “ensure a well-trained and capable water sector workforce to meet the increasing demands of the water industry.” In order to reduce the impact of an industry-wide workforce shortage, the NRWA is focusing its efforts on initiatives like the WaterPro Apprenticeship Program.  This program will operate using nationally recognized standards that will be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

According to Wade, “Advancements in water treatment and supply technology have increased the skills and training needed to protect public health and the environment. The apprenticeship program will ensure we have the skilled and educated workforce we need well into the future.”

Deputy CEO of NRWA Matthew Holmes said of the WaterPro Apprenticeship Program, “It will be nationwide and it will actually be open to any person in the water/wastewater industry or system that wants to sign up to receive an apprenticeship so they can participate in an earn-while-you-learn model of Workforce Development.”

The NRWA Workforce Advancement Center will also work to develop career pathways into the water sector for high school students, establish industry training certifications, connect workers with employers through a career center network and serve as an online clearinghouse for resources.

We Can All Make a Difference

The industry is taking this challenge head on and at every level working to combat the expected loss of workforce and decades of valuable institutional knowledge that will be lost with the retirement of so many baby boomers. The American Water Works Association is asking all water professionals to get involved and to help solve the new challenges that impact water by asking us all to invest in people.

The AWWA Committee and Board leaders were inspired to create a new fundraising program: The Water Equation Campaign. The mission? To replenish the pipeline of future water professionals and strengthen our current workforce through education and training. Offering water professionals the chance to help water students, young professionals and the currently established water workforce.

For those who are interested in making a donation to help support the current water professionals and water students working their way up with vital education and training funds, it is easy to make a gift. Just go to: http://www.awwa.org/donate.aspx.