The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched the Water Workforce Initiative to help cities and communities across the country that are facing critical staffing shortages for the operation and maintenance of essential drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The goal of this new initiative is to provide federal leadership, collaborate with partners and increase public awareness to bolster interest in water sector careers—a field that is charged with ensuring that all Americans have access to clean and safe water.
“Ensuring all Americans have access to clean water is a top priority of the Trump Administration, and we can’t fulfill that goal without supporting the skilled workers who provide clean drinking water and safe wastewater treatment every day,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We are launching the Water Workforce Initiative to help local communities ensure they have enough highly trained workers to operate the water utilities of today and tomorrow.”
Approximately one-third of drinking water and wastewater operators in the U.S. will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years, a fact EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross highlighted at an event last week in Salt Lake City. Due to several factors, including limited awareness of water careers, the sector often faces challenges with recruitment and retention of the skilled workers required in today’s high-tech water sector. Due to the scale of this challenge and the implications for environmental and public health protections, collaboration across federal, state, tribal and local governments as well as public utilities, the private sector, water sector associations, community groups and educational institutions is essential to developing an actionable Water Workforce Initiative.
“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 Water Environment Federation (WEF) President Tom Kunetz. “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.”
The Water Workforce Initiative builds on recent efforts to promote water careers. For example, EPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help connect veterans with disabilities with career opportunities in the water sector. EPA also worked with the Department of Labor to support water operator apprenticeship programs.
“EPA looks forward to capturing innovative ideas and collaborative actions through our Water Workforce Initiative so that we can take meaningful steps to ensure we have a strong water sector workforce for generations to come,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross.
The Water Workforce Initiative was announced at the 92nd Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference in Chicago, Ill., where the regeneration and reinvigoration of the water sector workforce is a focus area for the conference. Following further engagement with its partners, the agency intends to release a draft Water Workforce Initiative for public comment this winter.