(January 31, 2018) – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Jan. 26 examining workforce issues confronting drinking water and clean water utilities in the United States. The document, which was requested by the House Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, examines what is known about workforce needs at drinking water/clean water utilities and how unmet workforce challenges could impact compliance with federal law; approaches used by select utilities to meet workforce needs and challenges these utilities face; and how the federal government could assist utilities with workforce needs.
The report was requested in large part due to growing concerns over the long-term sustainability of workforces at water utilities, especially given the large amount of retirements expected over the coming years. With little public information or research available on workforce challenges within the water sector, the report seeks to provide some insights into these critical issues.
GAO found that future workforce needs can be identified through strategic workforce planning, which involves developing long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve program goals. GAO also recommended a number of way in which EPA can help in this process by gathering information through inspection guidance documents.
In a related development, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced a bipartisan bill Jan. 25 to address workforce issues in the water sector. Among other things, the bill:
- Authorizes the EPA and the United States Army Corps to establish a competitive water utility workforce development grant program.
- Supports public water and wastewater utilities that are facing challenges such as a high retiring workforce rate or are located in areas with high unemployment.
Provides support for targeted internship, apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and post-secondary bridge programs.
Encourages grant recipients to collaborate with labor organizations, community colleges, and other training and education institutions to provide on-the-job training and other skill development to ensure post-secondary success.
Provides support for K-12 and young adult education programs in order to increase awareness about opportunities for employment in the water utility sector.
NACWA will be discussing this legislation in more detail at our upcoming Winter Conference next week.