A Regional Initiative Strives for a Utility Workforce That Looks More Like Its Communities

An online job fair launches an effort by Milwaukee utilities to raise awareness of water careers and help them build diverse and representative work forces.

A Regional Initiative Strives for a Utility Workforce That Looks More Like Its Communities

Milwaukee Water Works (MWW), Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and Veolia Water Milwaukee collaborated on the online job fair. Key players included, from left, Andi Kneeland, communications and community relations manager with Veolia; Aaron Saeugling, water systems and projects manager with the water works; Lisa Sasso, MMSD senior project planner; Jeff Spence, MMSD director of community outreach and business engagement; and Kamisha Harris, water marketing specialist with the water works.

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The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee Water Works were challenged to create more awareness of water jobs available to area residents. The answer: A virtual jobs fair.

Milwaukee was part of a seven-city cohort chosen by the U. S. Water Alliance under its Water Equity Taskforce effort to create a more equitable workforce, with a demographic makeup representing the communities served.

Because of its location on Lake Michigan and its long history in the water industry, Milwaukee has been working to become a water-centric city. MMSD treats up to 650 mgd for 28 municipalities and serves 1.1 million people through its Jones Island and South Shore water reclamation facilities.

Forming the team

After receiving the direction from the Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce’s Roadmap to create more water job awareness, the two utilities joined with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Veolia Water Milwaukee, which is contracted by MMSD to operate, manage and maintain the two reclamation facilities, conveyance system and deep tunnel. During group meetings, team members decided to host an online water jobs fair.

“Having these four organizations join forces brought a great perspective to the meetings,” says Lisa Sasso, MMSD senior project planner. “Each one of us brought different skill sets to the table. We all had experiences for this type of event in some form or another, and it helped immensely in sharing those experiences and ideas.”

The four organizations promoted the fair, called “One Water, Our Water: Explore Milwaukee Jobs Fair,” through their outreach channels. They issued a press release and used their accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They also used word of mouth, contacted personal and professional networks and shared the event with city councils and the Milwaukee mayor’s office. As a result, over 170 job seekers and career advisors registered for the event.

Event takes shape

After several group calls and meetings, the team put together the agenda. Held May 12, 2021, the event was an online forum to tell participants about job openings in the four organizations. There was no charge to participants. Two local jobs organizations allowed the use of their offices for those who did not have access to technology.

The two-hour event opened with an introduction of the Milwaukee water sector. After that, each of the four organizations addressed the skill levels required for available jobs and talked about current and future openings at their facilities.

The DNR described its career pathway and explained how employees can move up in its organization. The Milwaukee Water Works featured an employee who spoke on his experience starting as a frontline worker and working up to management.

Participants learned how to engage with the organizations and were given contact information. That was followed by a question-and-answer session. The team then went on to discuss a second event, planned for fall, with a focus on interviewing and hiring.

Next steps

Hoping to host an in-person event in fall, the team made plans to provide informational interviews to attendees. The goal is to get the attendees engaged, stay in touch and create a workforce support network for current and future job openings.

Down the road, as the event evolves, the group wants to add more water partners with job openings. After the pandemic, they plan to devise a trade show format where water organizations can host their own booths.

Aaron Saeugling, who serves as the water systems and projects manager for the Milwaukee Water Works, observes, “The city of Louisville has been especially helpful in sharing its best practices and what they learned along the way. They were like a twin city partnership with Milwaukee that is still ongoing today.”   



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