EPA Announces Initiative to Recruit, Retain Water Workforce

At the virtual 2020 WEFTEC conference, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the next step in EPA’s effort to help address workforce challenges that are facing America’s drinking water and wastewater utilities. 

The new America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative outlines actions that the public and private sector are committing to that aim to help recruit and retain the next generation of the water workforce through workforce planning, technology training, and collaboration across the federal government and the water sector. These actions will support workforce resiliency for water utilities and thereby help ensure that Americans can continue relying on safe drinking water and vital wastewater services that protect public health and the environment, according to Wheeler.

“The water sector workforce provides an invaluable service to our nation — day in and day out. Their work is essential to protecting public health and the environment,” he says. “With roughly one-third of our water sector workforce eligible to retire in the next 10 years, this Initiative is vital to recruiting and retaining the new water workforce for the 21st century.”

Working with federal agencies and state, local, and tribal partners, America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative will highlight the vital work of the water workforce and will serve as a catalyst to encourage the choice of water careers through education and public outreach.

The Initiative includes three goals, aiming to:

• Provide federal leadership to create national momentum and coordinate efforts;

• Partner to build the water workforce of the future; and

• Bolster education and outreach to make water a career of choice.

Currently, water utilities face challenges in recruiting, training and retaining employees. These challenges are exacerbated with roughly one-third of the water sector workforce eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Additionally, as the technologies that are used in the water sector become more advanced, there is a growing need to train and employ water protection specialists with specialized technical skills.

“Much of the technical foundation for my current role at EPA I learned directly from the incredible wastewater treatment operators at the San Pasqual Water Reclamation Facility near San Diego, California,” says EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross. “We need to ensure that the next generation of water protection specialists are available to protect our communities and our critical investments in water infrastructure.”

EPA is collaborating with several agencies — including the U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs — to coordinate expertise and resources through the Initiative. EPA will also continue to work with other essential partners across the water sector, including states and tribes, utilities and associations, and technical assistance providers.

“Having a sustainable utility workforce going forward is central to the goal of all National Association of Clean Water Agencies members to protect water quality and our Nation’s critical infrastructure investments,” says NACWA Executive Director Adam Krantz. “We are happy to work with EPA and other water sector partners to address this critical challenge facing our sector.”

Water utilities are facing new workforce challenges requiring innovative solutions, according to American Water Works Association Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “Creating a sustainable and qualified workforce is critical to ensuring safe water for generations to come,” he says. “AWWA is invested in working with the EPA alongside a broad coalition to capture best practices from our members and share them for implementation across the water industry.”

Water Environment Federation President Jackie Jarrell says the water sector must put in place programs and policies that develop a unified water workforce that is representative of the communities WEF serves. “To ensure a sustainable water future, WEF looks forward to working with EPA and other partners to mentor the talented people we have, encourage others to join us, and share the broad scope of water careers as widely and loudly as possible.”

Water Reuse Association Executive Director Patricia Sinicropi says “this plan provides an important opportunity to help water workers develop the critical skills necessary to move toward greater water reuse in the future. The Water Reuse Association is pleased to partner with EPA and other water sector leaders to achieve this important goal.”

EPA is committed to continuing to build on the partnerships and actions identified in the Initiative and the agency welcomes interested new partners to join us in this important endeavor. To capture progress made on the Initiative moving forward, EPA will convene existing and new partners biannually and will publish updates to the Initiative annually. To support or join this important effort, contact WaterSectorWorkforce@epa.gov or visit www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure/water-sector-workforce.


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