It’s almost here. The “Silver Tsunami” is about to come crashing down across the workforce and, with it, a tremendous skill gap will be exposed between those preparing to leave the workforce and those just starting their careers. Much like an actual tsunami, there is little we can do to stop it, but there are some things the water industry can do to prepare for the inevitable wave.
Within the next ten years, nearly one-third of the existing water workforce will reach retirement age. Those professionals will take years of knowledge and experience with them, so organizations need to groom a new generation of water professionals to step in and fill their shoes.
This “changing of the guard” occurs alongside other issues impacting the water industry: our aging infrastructure, much of which needs to be replaced, and many communities’ concerns about water quality and affordability, which will require water utilities to form deeper connections with their customers. These issues will only intensify if we do not strive to attract and retain a workforce ready to tackle those challenges head-on.
From GED to Ph.D., we’ve got you covered
In a report released by the Brookings Institute, greater visibility to the public was identified as a major need for workforce development in the water sector. Engaging with future water professionals early on is key to showcasing the opportunities that a career in water can provide. This isn’t always easy in the water industry, because we are adept at working behind the scenes. But, if we want to attract the same level of professionals we’ve had over the last thirty years, we need to get out there and tell our story.
Get creative. Sponsor science-based programs in the community or at middle schools. Work with vocational students in high schools to host meter assembly contests. Provide opportunities to universities and students to work on issues in your organization. Showcase the day-to-day work you and your team perform. To us, it’s routine — but to someone who has never seen a team of water technicians gracefully navigate a pipe tapping contest, that may be just the inspiration they need to introduce them to the world of water.
The water industry has no shortage of technical, financial, and administrative positions with water industry workers doing a lot of cool things. Why not tell people about them?
We have more than just technical jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing water occupations through 2026 will be software developers, information security analysts, market research analysts, and marketing specialists. Those jobs are vastly different from what may be considered a traditional “job in water,” but this highlights the fact that no matter what career interests a person may have, there is a place for them to contribute to the purpose of providing clean drinking water to communities across the nation.
“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”
That’s not all that jobs in the water industry have going for them. The work of providing water to the community matters, and we invest heavily in our people. In the Annual Millennial Survey released by Deloitte, respondents under the age of 36 value community impact and talent development, counting these factors as top reasons they would stay in their jobs.
Those with careers in water work every day to provide the communities they live in with safe and reliable water. That is a tremendous community impact and one that we should share with every potential co-worker we talk to. Not every person can say their career impacts every person in a community, but every person with a job in water can.
So, go out and have conversations at high schools, community colleges, Girl Scout Troops, and more, and tell them there is a place for them in the water industry. Show them how their interest in computers, journalism, or gardening can be applied to a career in water. Start today to ensure you have the workforce you want tomorrow.