Reinvigorating the water workforce will require more than public outreach. It will require intentional, proactive planning to connect with potential workers where they live, as well as establishing easily navigable paths between training and career.

(Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Water Environment & Technology magazine. All rights reserved.)

By Justin Jacques

With higher-than-average pay, excellent job security, and countless opportunities for meaningful work, careers in the water sector bring a range of benefits that many industries cannot match. Data from the Brookings Institution (Washington, D.C.) suggest more than 1.5 million water-sector workers in the U.S. earn up to 50% higher wages than workers with similar backgrounds in other fields. The sector also is accessible. In terms of formal education, more than half of all water workers have no more than a high-school diploma or GED.

But the "silver tsunami" is coming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately one-third of the U.S. water workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next decade.

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Meanwhile, data suggest that today’s job seekers may not be as familiar with water sector opportunities as those of previous generations. Brookings confirms that only about 10% of the water workforce is younger than 24. While the water workforce’s median age is 43, only about 1 year above the overall median age of U.S. workers, many water professions are significantly older. These include architectural and engineering managers at 49, machinists at 48, and operators at 46.5.

In this special section of Water Environment & Technology, we explore perspectives from all sides of the water sector — and beyond — to help water organizations better navigate the challenges of recruitment, training, retention, and inclusion.

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‘How to Build a Better Workforce’

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