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The Water Sector Workforce Needs Skills of American Workers

2012 February 28

By Nancy Stoner

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama presented a blueprint for an economy built to last – one built on the skills of American workers. The President laid out new ideas for how we’ll make sure our students and workers get the education and training they need so we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow.

EPA is working with water sector organizations to do just that.

A well-trained water sector workforce is essential to protecting public health and the environment through effective drinking water and wastewater utility operations. However, our water industry has a critical need to develop skilled professionals. Over one-third of current water operators can retire within seven years, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for water and wastewater operators will grow by 20% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the national average for all other occupations.

Earlier this month, I attended a roundtable in Alexandria, VA hosted by the Water Environment Federation, which brought together utility managers and leaders to discuss developing the next generation of the workforce.

I heard about innovative ways that organizations are making a difference. In Virginia, Loudoun Water worked with a public school to place special needs students in internship positions at the utility. The program helps students gain work experience and better prepares their path from high school to career. In Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development created a three-year wastewater treatment plant operator apprenticeship program, providing a mix of on-the-job learning and classroom instruction.

At the roundtable, I was able to highlight EPA’s efforts to address water sector workforce needs. We’re working closely with utility groups to promote water sector careers to new target audiences and to identify training programs. We’re collaborating with our federal partners to recruit and train new water professionals. EPA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor, as well as states and utility groups, are coordinating to recruit and train veterans. And we’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote water sector careers in rural communities.

Creating jobs in the water sector has a ripple effect – the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that every job created in water infrastructure creates over three additional jobs to support that position. Working together, we can realize the President’s vision for a strong workforce, today and tomorrow

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Hillary permalink
    February 28, 2012

    I am a Water Resources Environmental Engineering Technologist by trade, and even did my co-op training at the city’s water treatment plant. However, since graduating 2 years ago at the top of my class, I have not been able to get a job in my field. Why is it, when I am fully trained with valid work experience, do I get turned away because I haven’t been working with 5+ years experience? If we truly need treatment plant operators with the proper education, this would not be the case.

  2. Ernest Martinson permalink
    February 28, 2012

    The USDA subsidy of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) may also trickle down to a need for water workers in the field. For example, a big South Dakota goose farmer was mandated by EPA to build a holding pond to comply with CAFO requirements. In doing so, a mess was created but has apparently been abated with a guaranteed loan through USDA Rural Development. This may not pass the smell test but, hey, but there’s work to do.

  3. Felipe Cervantes permalink
    February 28, 2012

    water supply to the general public (fresh water) is becoming a problem in some places not only in the US but in some other countries.

    The natural sources of water are melting in the north and incorporating to the sea waters, it is time to recover that water in thankers and have it in a secure place for later use. Water is going to be needed more than gasoline in future, gasoline is not going to be needed anymore but water is going to be needed

    Let´s check the levels in natural sources see what we come upon

  4. Ernest Martinson permalink
    February 29, 2012

    You are absolutely correct about the need to conserve water and nobody can do that better than Mother Nature. Unfortunately, near me in northern Wisconsin, the state is pushing an open-pit iron mining bill that would disrupt the storage capacities of wetlands and watershed of the Bad River draining into Lake Superior. The water in Lake Superior is blue gold and I have no doubt that the future holds a gold rush in the Lake Superior basin. Indeed, in the entire Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence River watershed discharging hopefully not too swiftly into the Atlantic Ocean.

  5. Kelly McEtchin permalink
    March 13, 2012

    The College of Extended Studies at San Diego State University, has already noticed and acknowledged this water trend. They have therefore created a new online certificate in Water Management. You can check it out at .

  6. May 23, 2012

    The reservoirs of fresh water are decreasing quickly and we would have to refer to ways like water treatment to increase supply of fresh water for daily usage. Water treatment i quickly becoming the need of the hour with increasing pollution and population.

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