Chief Editor, WaterWorld
We know it’s coming: over the next decade, many of the men and women who have dedicated their entire careers to the water industry will be bidding it a fond farewell. In fact, a recent Government Accountability Office report noted that “8.2 percent of existing water operators will need to be replaced annually between 2016 and 2026.”
Backfilling these positions is becoming an important focus for many water and wastewater utilities — and leading to some creative initiatives. One of these is the Water Warriors Jobs Initiative, a regional plan to help get military veterans good-paying careers in the water and wastewater industry.
“We’re facing a retirement boom where a majority of our knowledge base is just going to be headed out the door within five to ten years,” said Dustin Price, a maintenance manager with Portland (Maine) Water District and a U.S. Navy veteran. “On the other hand, we have veterans coming in with training that is directly relatable to what we do.”
Finding a way to integrate veterans into the water workforce is a passion of Price’s. He chairs the New England Water Environment Association’s (NEWEA) Veterans Workforce Development Committee, which supports the Water Warriors initiative. The program has gained a lot of traction over the past year but started as “a homegrown initiative with New Hampshire and Maine,” said Price. Today, it also includes Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Peter Goodwin, client services manager with the Ted Berry Company, has been involved in the program since its inception. In the course of preparing for a meeting with a congressman on the House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs , Goodwin realized the potentially powerful synergy between returning veterans and the water industry. “All of the things they do on a daily basis through all their training … is a great correlation to what we do,” he said. He and Price developed a white paper as a first step in outlining what would ultimately become the Water Warrior Jobs Initiative. From there, it grew.
“Our first year has gone great,” Price said. One of the aspects of the program that he’s most excited about is finding that the National Rural Water Association’s WaterPro Apprenticeship Program is covered under the GI Bill. “If you can hire a veteran in as an apprentice, they are going to be eligible for a stipend of up to $,2000 per month, which is going to turn out to be $24,000 per year.” Price noted that some veterans are coming out of service with decent pay, higher than what the wastewater industry is paying at the entry levels. “So, if you can have a $24,000 stop gap, you’re going to be able to attract these highly trained professionals into the water industry much more easily.”
A second win could be on the horizon, as well. According to Price, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is considering changing its certification requirements to allow veterans to receive up to two years of college credit for the skills they’ve received during their service. “[This] is going to help veterans apply for higher level licenses and get higher level pay earlier in their careers,” said Price.
“Although it took a while to get the seed planted,” added Goodwin, “it’s really growing organically through the association.”
Aligning skilled veterans with open positions in the water and wastewater industry: “It’s a marriage made in heaven,” said Price, “and we’re working hard on it.” WW