One Way to Find New Water Professionals: Grow Them Yourself

A South Carolina water and sewer authority addresses the worker shortage by creating a high school internship program to fill entry-level jobs.

One Way to Find New Water Professionals: Grow Them Yourself

Beaufort-Jasper staff members are shown with their NACWA award. From left, James Baker Jr., chair of the board; Phill Lovell, human resources talent partner; Joe Mantua, general manager; and Sarah Linkimer, deputy general manager.

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The Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority needed to get younger people interested in water careers and at the same time fill job openings.

Joe Mantua, general manager, worked with the human resources department to create a high school internship program. It targets high school students who may not go to college or don’t know what they want to do after they graduate.

The internships give these students an early opportunity to take on a role that could lead to long-term employment with the utility. The program focuses on students with a technical education background or interest.

Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority is based in Okatie, South Carolina, an unincorporated suburban community west of Hilton Head Island in Beaufort and Jasper counties. The authority collects, treats and recycles more than 9 mgd of wastewater and delivers an average of 20 mgd of drinking water to more than 150,000 residents. It also supplies drinking water to wholesale customers.


The internship program began in 2021; it is still in its early stages and plans call for its expansion. It is open to students in all the public high schools in both counties.

The authority worked hand in hand with the both county school districts’ Career and Technical Education offices, which encourage students to be career-ready through instruction in technical and employability skills and acquisition of industry credentials.

In March 2020, more than 60 students attended two open houses to solicit interest; the events included an overview of the organization and facility tours. Over several months, a plan emerged for the authority to host high school seniors in 15-week paid internships in spring 2021.

Authority staff, school counselors and career development facilitators used an initial internship application to prescreen, referencing students’ career interest inventories and graduation plans. Students then experienced the authority’s regular application and interview process. Once selected, each student and a parent or guardian signed a work-based training agreement to delineate expectations.

Phill Lovell, human resources talent partner for the utility, works with the counselors and interviews the candidates. “Some students graduate early, and so they are eligible to apply, as well as students still in school,” Lovell says.

“The only requirement is that they be high school seniors looking for what they want to do after they graduate.” The other reason for targeting high school seniors is that the entry level jobs the utility needs to fill don’t require a college degree.

“The students who apply are anxious to get real-world work experience,” Lovell says. The two main roles that interns apply for are in customer service and field operations — entry level jobs within two of the utility’s largest departments. The authority typically gets 10-12 internship applicants per year and narrows that down to six.

Internships start in January or February and are complete by April or May, after which the students are considered available for hiring. Students must be 18 before starting work. They earn high school credit for their work at the utility. 


Interns are paid $15 an hour. On their first day, the students meet in the administration building for onboarding and orientation. The internships include some online course work for which students are also paid. They receive safety, diversity, sexual harassment, IT and OSHA training.

Most of the training they receive is on the job. The students work with their supervisor and team. They work four-hour shifts, typically 8 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For the field operations jobs, the students learn how to maintain the water system, fix and install pipes, help with the pump line and pumping stations, and install water meters. They work with the water and wastewater staff.

For the customer service roles, students work in the administration building with the customer service team. 


Several interns have been hired for full-time employment. In the first year, both field operations interns and one customer service intern were hired. “All three are still employed and two were promoted within seven months of being hired permanently,” says Lovell. “They were thrilled.”

Even students who were not hired or did not apply told Lovell the internship was a great experience; they said that it was beneficial to them and that they enjoyed it. They also came away with real-world experience to put on their resumes.

The internship programs received a 2022 National Environmental Achievement Award in the Workforce Development category from the National Association for Clean Water Agencies for resourceful employment and community outreach.

Says Lovell, “We think it’s a great program and we will continue to use it going forward.”  


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