EPA Grant Awarded to Develop Toledo Region Utilities Workforce
Alex Aspacher, TMACOG
Amy Giordano, Owens Community College
TMACOG, Toledo, and Owens Community College will create Integrated Water Workforce Collaborative
TOLEDO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is awarding nearly $500,000 to the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG), the City of Toledo and Owens Community College to develop the region’s water and wastewater workforce.
U.S. EPA recently announced the award of $494,874 from its Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Grant Program.
“Workers at water and wastewater treatment utilities provide a service that is absolutely essential to public health, the environment, and economic prosperity in their communities,” said Radhika Fox, U.S. EPA assistant administrator for water. “The water sector is facing significant workforce challenges and it is critical that EPA and its federal, state, and local partners invest in the next generation of water professionals.”
Along with its two lead partners, TMACOG sought funding after hearing member organizations describe an increasing need for trained utilities workers. The three-year project, which will also include an estimated $269,090 local investment, will develop a regional water and wastewater workforce collaborative to address workforce needs.
“City and village administrators told us that workers who treat water and wastewater are retiring faster than new staff are being brought on and trained. With skills in demand, trained personnel often leave smaller communities to work for larger utilities that may pay more, leaving those communities short-handed,” said Kari Gerwin, TMACOG’s director of Water Quality.
Ohio EPA’s 2018 water workforce survey indicated that 22 percent of the state’s drinking water operators are set to retire by 2023, with 41 percent expected to retire by 2028. For wastewater operators, 25 percent are set to retire by 2023, and 44 percent by 2028.
The project team surveyed 32 water and wastewater service providers in northwest Ohio to determine employment needs, knowledge, and skills desired in entry-level employees, and employment opportunities they have available. Of those surveyed, 75 percent indicated a need for operators, and 69 percent have full- or part-time employment opportunities or internships. Most utilities are seeking new staff with basic education or training in the field, but advanced training and experience are not required.
The goal is to increase awareness of water and wastewater career paths and build a pipeline of workers for public utilities. The collaborative will be a source of information on water sector careers, recruitment materials, curriculum, instructors, and employment connections.
The project will provide training and a clear career path for future water and wastewater operators in secondary education and career tech, through community college, and on to possible apprenticeships, internships, or bachelor’s degree programs. This work will develop a model that can be applied to the rest of the state and other areas in need of workers to protect and maintain water resources.
“The City of Toledo is pleased to support this project to build a diverse, well-prepared water infrastructure workforce,” Edward A. Moore, Toledo’s director of public utilities, wrote in a letter of support for the project. “With a significant number of retirements in both water and wastewater, the City of Toledo needs qualified professionals.”
The collaboration “will provide the experience and expertise necessary to build a stronger and more effective water utility workforce,” said Denise Smith, vice president of academic affairs and provost for Owens Community College.
Owens has developed a Water and Wastewater Certificate Program where students can earn their credential in as little as eight weeks, she explained. Contextualized learning will be delivered through hybrid methods of classroom instruction, hands-on lab experiences and test preparation.
“This new certificate program will assist with the creation of a strong pipeline of qualified workers with the knowledge and skills needed to fill jobs in the water utility sector now and in the future,” Smith said.
“We look forward to participating in this collaboration that will provide students with the education, training and access to water utility workforce opportunities throughout the region.”
Ohio EPA will provide support to the project including certification requirements, curriculum feedback, and updated information about regulatory requirements. Amy J. Klei, chief of Ohio EPA’s Division of Drinking and Ground Waters, and Tiffani Kavalec, chief of the Division of Surface Water, provided a letter of support for the project during the application phase.
“Ohio EPA supports this project because it addresses an ongoing need for qualified employees entering the water and wastewater sectors,” they wrote. “Water and wastewater systems throughout Ohio need innovative ways to train and recruit personnel from entry-level to supervisors. A coordinated effort is required to address workforce development, and we applaud TMACOG’s comprehensive approach to the issue of water workforce development.”
TMACOG is a non-partisan regional planning partnership made up of voluntary members in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Together, TMACOG members work on transportation, water quality, and other economic development endeavors that affect quality of life for everyone in our region. For more information, go to www.tmacog.org.
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