SFPUC, partners applaud workforce development measure in WRDA

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the city’s Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and its partners throughout the nation are applauding the establishment of a federal grant program to fund training and career development for workers in the water and wastewater industries.

The workforce training and development measure was included in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday and combines the regular, two-year Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation and a Safe Drinking Water Act bill produced by the House of Representatives.

The $1 million per year competitive grant program was championed by the SFPUC and its partner utilities in the Water Agency Leaders Alliance (WALA), the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), among other national organizations. The original legislation was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

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“Offering career opportunities for residents from all communities is essential to addressing economic inequality and ensuring we remain a diverse and thriving city,” said Breed. “The water and wastewater industries offer good jobs that can provide long-term stability for workers and their families, and this grant funding will help train and develop a diverse array of prospective employees to enter into those fields.”

“At the SFPUC, nearly 50 percent of our employees are eligible to retire in the next 5 to 10 years,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. “We must act now to ensure that we are prepared to replenish our workforce ranks and that we do so with employees who reflect the diversity of our communities. I want to thank Senators Capito and Booker for their leadership on tackling this critical issue, and to our own Senator Kamala Harris for her support for this important legislation.”

An influx of infrastructure work is projected to generate $524 billion in economic activity and create nearly 300,000 job opportunities across the country. The competitive grant program will help train workers to build and repair important water systems throughout the country, while providing pathways to careers with competitive wages and benefits.

“Cities across the country are facing a severe shortage of skilled workers to operate our nation’s water systems,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director of the National League of Cities. “At the same time, there is a looming workforce challenge to build new water infrastructure systems that meet the needs of the 21st century.”

More on what’s included in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018

With climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme and volatile weather events, building and maintaining the nation’s critical water infrastructure is more important than ever. Over the next decade, the country’s 30 largest water utilities are estimated to spend $23 billion on water infrastructure projects, according to the Water Environment Research Foundation.

“We strongly supported this legislation and its inclusion in the 2018 WRDA package,” said Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). “Clean water agencies provide quality jobs in every State which are vital to protecting local water quality and public health. Yet developing the next generation of skilled workers is a significant challenge that utilities are facing head-on. This new grant program will help address the challenge while facilitating development of new approaches and best practices to addressing the water workforce pipeline. Senator Capito and Senator Booker have been leaders on this issue, and we thank them for their efforts.”

More than 30 percent of the nation’s water and wastewater workers are eligible to retire in the next 5 – 10 years, making this grant program a vital opportunity to train the next generation of industry employees.

“For every $1 million invested in water infrastructure improvements, there is a direct, indirect and induced impact of 15.5 jobs,” said Commissioner Kishia L. Powell, City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. “That is why we are pleased that Congress passed bipartisan legislation to assist municipalities in improving local water infrastructure, creating well-paying jobs and securing the future of our most valuable resource. The provision outlined in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act for a water workforce development grant program will provide necessary funding to continue our innovative workforce development programs that support the department’s strong resolve to ensure water remains safe and accessible to residents of Atlanta by investing in training Atlantans to join our workforce.”

Utility agencies from both rural and urban communities will be eligible to apply for the grant funding, which can be used for a variety of job training and workforce development programs. Many of the careers in the water and wastewater industries have low-educational barriers to entry, and the openings are often permanent, civil service positions. When paired with strong community partnerships and intentional strategies to address barriers to employment for hard-to-serve communities, these training programs can help reduce income inequality and address the shrinking middle class.

The partner agencies in WALA advised on a recent study from the Brookings Institution that found workers in the water industry tended to be older and lacked racial and gender diversity in certain areas. The report recommended new strategies at the local, regional, state and national level to attract younger and more diverse employees. The competitive grant program — the first of its kind for the water industry — can help achieve those goals.

“As the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District embarks on a $4.3 billion Critical Repair & Reinvestment Plan (CRRP), we recognize the need for a qualified and skilled workforce to meet our infrastructure challenges,” said Louisville MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott. “In Louisville alone, the economic impact will be $5 billion and 3,700 jobs per year over the next 20 years in sustaining the CRRP. This new grant will ensure the funding is available for Louisville MSD to collaborate with workforce development agencies, technical schools, and others to get employees in the diverse neighborhoods we serve the training and skills needed for our industry.”

The SFPUC has long been a national leader in offering career development and workforce training programs. Through initiatives such as the Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP) CityworksProject Pull and the Jobs Training and Opportunities Program (JTOP), the agency creates meaningful job training, internship and apprenticeship opportunities for local residents.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the city and county of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the city and county of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at sfwater.org.

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