| Critical mission: recruiting, training and retaining water sector professionals
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Critical mission: recruiting, training and retaining water sector professionals

As the COVID-19 pandemic is drawing attention to the essential role of water professionals in protecting public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spearheading a national initiative to address critical staffing shortages faced by water and wastewater utilities.

woman at water plantThe EPA is collaborating with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and other partners on a Water Sector Workforce Initiative to recruit, train and retain more skilled workers for water sector careers. About a third of U.S. drinking water and wastewater operators will become eligible for retirement over the next decade.

The goal of the initiative is to “help local communities ensure they have enough highly trained workers to operate the water utilities of today and tomorrow,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in an EPA news release.

The agency plans to work with partners across federal, state, tribal and local governments as well as public utilities, the private sector, water sector associations, community groups and educational institutions, “to ensure that the water sector workforce is strong, diverse and resilient and attracts talented individuals from many different backgrounds,” the release stated.

As the world’s largest organization of water supply professionals, AWWA has long been involved in educating the public about water sector careers, providing scholarships for training and education, recruiting military veterans and transitioning service members into the water sector, and offering opportunities for professional development, including continuing education credits, conference programming, and many others.

“Having a sustainable and qualified workforce is critical to ensuring safe water for generations to come,” said David LaFrance, AWWA’s Chief Executive Officer. “AWWA is invested in working with the EPA to address this challenge, particularly as innovations in water operations increasingly require advanced and specialized skills.”

Water plant technicianIn a recent letter to U.S. President-Elect Biden, AWWA President Melissa Elliott highlighted the  water sector’s ability to help with the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by offering “an amazing variety of jobs, from field operations to technical specialists to high-level administrative positions.”

On behalf of AWWA, Elliott requested that the Biden administration:

  • Work with the EPA and the Associations of Boards of Certification to ease the ability of workers to carry their licenses to work at a water utility to other states
  • Provide robust funding for community college scholarships that prepare students to enter the water workforce
  • Direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop liaisons with the water sector job market

“On a broader scale, AWWA’s role in the Water Sector Workforce Initiative supports AWWA’s efforts to promote and advance the water profession as a vocation of distinction across the globe,” LaFrance explained. “AWWA’s strategies under the Water Sector Workforce Initiative help to raise visibility of meaningful careers that make a positive impact in protecting public health and the environment.”

AWWA’s strategy for increasing the pool of skilled candidates for water sector jobs across the globe includes these action items:

  • Expand the listing of resources and scholarship opportunities on www.WorkforWater.org, an internet landing page maintained by AWWA and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) for those seeking jobs in the water sector
  • Sponsor four working groups to explore and advance increasing standardization and reciprocity of certificates and licenses in the water sector between states
  • Increase the recruitment of veterans and transitioning service members into the water sector through increased outreach efforts, including a national Network of Volunteer Liaisons to mentor and connect veterans with water systems
  • Continue to collaborate with EPA, WEF and other partners on ways to share knowledge, innovations and best practices in the water sector
  • Partner with EPA to explore ways to attract young professionals to careers in water

More AWWA resources for water sector careers are available here.