Building Community Resiliency by Training the Next Generation

by Patrick A. Barnes

In 2011, the first of the baby boomers reached retirement age.  And for the foreseeable future, boomers will be retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, nearly a quarter million a month.

In an effort to help compensate for its retiring workforce, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) launched several initiatives to reach individuals within communities of need to find future water/wastewater plant operators. One such initiative resulted in a very unique and timely partnership with Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At LVI, our mission is to serve at-risk, underserved, and under-employed young adults, ages 18 to 29 years.  Through our program, participants obtain certifications, knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience in the environmental industry.  Near the end of their training, LVI participants serve in internships with S&WB and local environmental and engineering firms. These internships help the students learn more about potential careers within the environmental industry. It also gives potential employers a chance to work with non-traditional future employees and discover their talents and enthusiasm before offering them a job.

Granville Guillory has used this opportunity to truly excel.

Granville was 20 when he came to LVI after several personal hardships and dropping out of college. His aunt heard about the LVI program and suggested he give it a try.  During his interview, Granville indicated he wanted to work for S&WB and follow in his uncle’s footsteps.  According to Granville, his uncle had worked at the S&WB for most of his life and he was “set.” Granville was looking for the same type of stability in his life.

Granville, along with several other students, were there on June 21, 2012, when EPA announced that LVI was among the recipients of an EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant. There, Granville discussed his desire to work for the S&WB. His sincerity and personal enthusiasm earned him a private tour of the facility after the press conference.

Later that year, Granville and seven other LVI members participated in an internship at the local facility, where he continued to impress the staff with his work ethic, curiosity, and natural intuition for the work. And his hard work paid off! After passing the Wastewater Operators State Board Exam, Granville and another student were asked to join Veolia North America (the plant operator) as full-time employees.

Now at age 23, Granville is excelling as a State of Louisiana Class III Wastewater Plant Operator and, as he puts it, “if things go wrong, it is my responsibility to help make them right before any serious damage to the furnace or an emission violation occurs.” Because of his performance and interest in furnace operations, he was asked if he would be willing to travel overseas to broaden his skills. Later this year, Granville will be traveling to Tokyo for six months to learn about a new and more efficient furnace that Veolia is planning to incorporate in its U.S. operations.

Granville also has taken on an active role in mentoring new LVI participants and interns. With his enthusiasm, they are able to see the bigger picture through discussions with him and strive harder to achieve their goals — just like Granville did.

I firmly believe that there cannot be true environmental justice without economic justice, and this tremendous need represents a unique opportunity for impacted residents to obtain meaningful jobs, thus putting them on a path to economic equality and ultimately, helping to build the socio-economic strength necessary for communities like Granville’s more resilient for the future.  It truly takes a unique team of partners working together across governments and with local communities and industry, to connect the dots for environmental workforce development and job training programs to succeed!

About the author: Patrick A. Barnes, President of BFA Environmental is a professional geologist and founder of LVI.  Patrick recently was honoured as a White House Champion of Change Community Resiliency Leader.  Patrick first envisioned LVI in 1997 after years of performing environmental engineering services to poor communities working as an EPA Technical Assistant Grant (TAG) advisor and after working on several Brownfields redevelopment projects in the Southeast.  

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