Taking on Retirement Gap Is an Industry Priority

At WEFTEC in Chicago this September, the EPA announced a program called the Water Workforce Initiative to help U.S. municipalities face staffing shortages in the water/wastewater sector

Taking on Retirement Gap Is an Industry Priority

At the same recent event in Salt Lake City, during which David Ross — the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for water — called water treatment plant operators “silent everyday unsung heroes,” he also pointed out that roughly one-third of water/wastewater operators in the nation will be eligible to retire in the next decade.

With limited public awareness of sewer and water careers, bringing this issue to the forefront is a crucial step in meeting the challenge of recruiting and retaining skilled workers in today’s high-tech water sector.

That’s the reason the EPA has announced its Water Workforce Initiative at the 92nd annual WEFTEC in Chicago this September. The program is geared at helping cities and communities across the country that are facing critical staffing shortages for the operation and maintenance of essential drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The goal is to provide federal leadership, collaborate with partners and increase public awareness to bolster interest in water sector careers — a field that is charged with ensuring that all Americans have access to clean and safe water. 

Due to the scale of this challenge and the implications for environmental and public health protections, collaboration across federal, state, tribal and local governments as well as public utilities, the private sector, water sector associations, community groups and educational institutions is essential to developing an actionable Water Workforce Initiative.

“Building a dynamic and diverse water workforce for the 21st century is absolutely vital to continuing to deliver on our sector’s mission to protect public health and the environment,” says Water Environment Federation President Tom Kunetz. “WEF is very grateful that EPA is collaborating with our organization and others to address critical workforce needs and believes the agency’s support will help advance current initiatives and better target federal efforts to the water sector.”

The Water Workforce Initiative builds on recent efforts to promote water careers. For example, EPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help connect veterans with disabilities with career opportunities in the water sector. EPA also worked with the Department of Labor to support water operator apprenticeship programs.

“EPA looks forward to capturing innovative ideas and collaborative actions through our Water Workforce Initiative so that we can take meaningful steps to ensure we have a strong water sector workforce for generations to come,” says EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Ross.


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