A recent report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution is highlighting an issue that comes up in nearly every discussion we have with our members and our trade union partners—how do we keep the workforce we need constantly renewed with young skilled workers.

The Brookings report, “Renewing the Water Workforce” demonstrates we are entering a danger zone as our skilled workforce is aging out of the job market and not enough younger workers are entering apprenticeship programs to replace them.

According to Brookings’ research, in 2016, nearly 1.7 million workers were directly involved in designing, constructing, operating, and governing U.S. water infrastructure, spanning a variety of industries and regions. Utilities employ 298,000 workers, 17.7 percent of the total water workforce. Our part of the mix of water-related employers, engineering firms, construction companies and plumbing contractors, employ nearly 1.4 million workers.

Collectively, the water workforce fills 212 different occupations from positions in the skilled trades like electricians and technicians to financial, administrative, and management positions.

The good news is that water occupations not only tend to pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally, but also pay up to 50 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale—a powerful incentive to attract new workers if we can just find a way to get the word to them.

Most water workers have less formal education, including 53 percent having a high school diploma or less. Instead, they require more extensive on-the-job training and familiarity with a variety of tools and technologies. Brookings says 78.2 percent of water workers need at least one year of related work experience, and 16 percent need four years or more for higher skill level apprenticeship programs, highlighting the need for applied learning opportunities.

Water workers tend to be older and lack gender and racial diversity in certain occupations; in 2016, nearly 85 percent of them were male and two-thirds were white, pointing to a need for a more diverse group reflecting the changing demographics in our communities. Women make up less than 2 percent of the construction employment in water work.

The report reveals the sizable economic opportunity offered by water jobs—better pay, low barriers to entry and the variety of occupations found across the country.

For a copy of the report go to //www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Brookings-Metro-Renewing-the-Water-Workforce-June-2018.pdf

By Brandon Pensick, ECA President
Email: [email protected]