On October 5, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the new America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative. Wheeler shared this news during his live keynote address at WEFTEC Connect.
The 37-page document, America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative: A Call to Action, outlines public and private commitments 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.
The three main goals of the initiative are 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.
Water utilities nationwide face challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining employees. These challenges are especially significant because nearly one-third of the water sector workforce will be eligible to retire within the next 10 years.
Additionally, the technologies used in the water sector are growing more advanced and complex to achieve more stringent nutrient limits, reduce energy use, and seek to recover resources for reuse. This evolution emphasizes a growing need to train and employ water protection specialists with specialized technical skills.
In his announcement, Wheeler stated, “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. 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.”
U.S. EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross also commented on the initiative, “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. 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.”
Wheeler announced the initiative during WEFTEC Connect, on Monday, October 5 as part of his keynote address to share the agency’s priorities and activities for the water sector. The Water Environment Federation, which is hosting WEFTEC Connect, and other water sector partners worked alongside EPA to develop this initiative. Other collaborating organizations included the American Water Works Association, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the WateReuse Association, and the Water Research Foundation.
“The water sector must put in place programs and policies that develop a water workforce that is representative of the communities that we serve,” said Water Environment Federation President Jackie Jarrell. “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.”
To coordinate expertise and resources for the initiative, EPA is collaborating with several other U.S. agencies, including the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.