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A strong water infrastructure is vital to health and economic growth

Workforce recruitment and retention are key challenges
By Jaimie Stevens
April 15, 2020

We have all heard the advice from medical experts: wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds to lessen the chances of you getting—or spreading—the coronavirus which is sweeping through the world.

For millions of people, that simple act is impossible because of lack of clean water and poor water infrastructure, putting them at greater risk, according to the new United Nations World Water Development Report.

A strong water infrastructure is also a vital resource in achieving efficient economic growth and the water sector workforce is key to that growth.

Seventy-eight percent of all jobs worldwide need water, according to a another U.N. report. Jobs in agriculture, mining, and industries ranging from paper to pharmaceuticals are heavily water-dependent. Others such as construction, recreation, and transportation are moderately water-dependent.

A report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution notes that U.S. workers in the water sector are essential because “many of the nation’s water infrastructure assets are in urgent need of repair, maintenance, and restoration.”

Nearly 1.7 million workers were directly involved with designing, constructing, operating, and governing U.S. water infrastructure in 2016. This included over 200 different occupations, among them skilled trades, administration, finance, and management roles.

Recruitment and Retention

The U.S. water industry sector often faces challenges recruiting and retaining the skilled workers required in high-tech water jobs. Compounding the issue, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is about one-third of drinking water and wastewater operators in the U.S. will be eligible for retirement in the next ten years.

The EPA has developed a Water Workforce Initiative intended to create collaboration between the federal, state, tribal, and local governments.  Among its goals is to increase interest in water sector careers.

For example, the EPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs are collaborating to connect veterans with disabilities to careers in the water sector. The EPA is also working with the Department of Labor to support water operator apprenticeship programs.

Forward-Thinking in the Water Sector

Megan Glover is co-founder and CEO of 120Water, a cloud-based software and water testing service that helps organizations stay compliant with water sector regulations.

Motivated a few years ago by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Glover realized that there was no easy, affordable way to test water in her community of Zionsville, Indiana. She left her job as an enterprise software executive to develop point-of-use kits that are used by state agencies, public water systems, and school facilities nationwide.

Individual testing kits are also available. The tests detect toxins like lead, copper, and arsenic, which according to the EPA, at certain levels are linked to learning problems among children, reproductive issues, and, in rare cases, death.

With a team made up of about 36 software and water sector veterans, 120Water hopes to expand its reach later this year by launching a commercial application that will give safe drinking water certifications to establishments like hotels and restaurants.

World Water Day

With this month’s observation of the U.N.’s World Water Day, there is a call that “everyone has a role to play.” Glover and her team are making their mark.

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