Our sector is facing enormous challenges, including aging infrastructure, population growth, pollution problems, affordability, and climate change impacts.
In addition, water utilities face a significant challenge in replenishing and optimizing our workforces. We must address this workforce challenge in parallel in order to have the resources and wherewithal to successfully continue our mission to protect the public health and the environment"
First, we need more people coming to work in water. A report from The Brookings Institute found that over 50 percent of water professionals are eligible to retire from their jobs within the next three to five years. Brookings also reported that the water workforce lacks gender and racial diversity. For us to best serve our communities the workforce needs to reflect our customers. And then there is the digital transformation underway – our workers need skills for the 21st century.
But there are plenty of opportunities to transform our workforce. For one, consider that water utilities are often located in communities where unemployment rates are higher than the national average. For example, my utility in Camden, NJ has a 9.8% unemployment rate. So, our utilities need replacement workers and our communities need jobs – how can we create a “water employment pipeline” from our communities into our treatment plants and water systems?
To discuss opportunities like this, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) are jointly holding a Transformative Issues Symposium on the water workforce. The Symposium will be held on August 7-9 in Washington, D.C.
In addition to training our neighbors to become the next generation of the water workforce, the Symposium will also explore strategies for optimizing worker performance and experience for the current workforce that we have and the future workforce that we plan to attract. Development of our current water workforce is often an underutilized resource for our utilities, which can lead to happier employees and better outcomes for the communities that we serve.
Water leaders from across the country will converge on D.C. for the Symposium to create an outstanding program that includes sessions on forging partnerships with community organizations, implications of digital water on the workforce, building interest among young people in water careers, innovative recruitment, and handling organizational change.
Optimizing our water workforce is one of the biggest challenges faced by the water sectors today. But it also represents a tremendous opportunity to make a positive difference for both our water utilities and our communities for many years to come. I encourage you to join your colleagues at the WEF/AWWA Transformative Issues Symposium on Water Workforce to be part of this important conversation.