A Grand Rapids employee at work in the control room of the city's water department.
The water industry is facing a shortage of qualified workers because of retirements and because of proposed new investments in infrastructure, which will require extra staffing.
One local solution to the national problem is a new collaboration between Grand Rapids Community College, the city of Grand Rapids, and Bay College in Escanaba. They are teaming up for a project aimed at building a pipeline to careers in the water and wastewater industry.
The project is supported by a national $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). GRCC, Grand Rapids, and Bay College will use a $500,000 award to introduce middle and high school students, and neighborhoods with high unemployment, to opportunities in fresh water and wastewater utilities.
“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,” says Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of 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.”
In April, the EPA’s announced $6.5 billion in water infrastructure funding for more than $13 billion in water infrastructure projects that are expected to create more than 40,000 jobs.
Julie Parks, interim dean of GRCC’s School for Workforce Development, said the college will work with partners to create hands-on opportunities for learning about the industry.
GRCC and its partners will launch “Water Weekend” events for families and work with schools and organizations to share career information with students. Those interested in water and wastewater careers will be able to learn more about them through boot camp-style workshops, internships, and job-shadowing opportunities with the city of Grand Rapids.
“We are grateful to the EPA for partnering with us to provide this essential training, which will provide up-close looks at family-sustaining careers that keep our communities safer,” Parks says. “This program is another example of the value GRCC provides through working with community and education partners. Bay College has one of the nation’s best water programs, and we’re proud to work with the team there.”
GRCC and the city of Grand Rapids have collaborated on a number of programs to help the city government recruit highly trained people ready to step into rewarding careers in public service.
Local staffing shortages
“We are excited to partner with GRCC to address the employment needs of water and sewer utilities,” says Wayne Jernberg, water system manager for the city of Grand Rapids. “Like water and sewer utilities across the nation, Grand Rapids is experiencing staffing shortages due to retirements and the lack of a diverse pool of qualified water professionals. We are confident that this partnership with GRCC will help to address our long-term workforce needs and encourage young people within the community to pursue a career in the water industry.”
Bay College offers one of the few Water Resource Management programs in the country, and it is designed to provide specialized training in water and wastewater treatment theory.
“This unique opportunity, for Bay College’s Water Resource Management Program and GRCC, clearly demonstrates Michigan’s community colleges collaborating together to build the pipeline to support careers in the water and wastewater industry,” says Cindy Carter, Bay College vice president of Business, Technology, and Workforce Development.