While scientists and environmental activists make the news headlines, water and wastewater operators are the unsung heroes of the Chesapeake Bay. A perfectly designed treatment plant will fail without trained operators. Yet young people pass up the opportunity for this challenging and rewarding career; there’s that “Ed Norton” perception of the water/wastewater operator. But those days are long gone. Operation of today’s water and wastewater plants require complex skills in math and science and today’s operators range from those with high school educations and GED diplomas to scientists and engineers with master’s and doctorate degrees.
To help attract the next generation of quality operators, and ensure they are prepared with the skills vital to protect the Bay, Maryland Environmental Service, along with partners Charles County Department of Public Works, Maryland Center for Environmental Training (MCET) and the Maryland Rural Water Association (MRWA), has proposed a Strategic Industry Partnership to address the impending shortage of trained certified operators.
On December 30, in support of the partnership’s effort to improve recruitment and training, Leonard Howie, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) announced that Maryland Environmental Service and its partners are recipient of an EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) Maryland Planning Grant.
The EARN grants mark the first funds awarded under the new State-funded competitive workforce and economic development grant initiative, which took effect in June 2013. EARN Maryland, managed by DLLR, is a first-of-its-kind State skills training and economic development initiative that is business-led, flexible and collaborative. EARN Maryland is designed to ensure that Maryland employers have the talent they need to compete and grow while providing targeted education and skills training to Maryland workers.
“There is no progress without a job. By awarding today’s State-funded planning grants to these selected strategic partnerships, we’re moving our State forward and helping more Marylanders get the skills they need to qualify for Maryland’s most in-demand jobs. Working together, these EARN planning grants will provide industry-specific, state-of-the-art training for high-demand occupations,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.
With a significant number employees approaching retirement, Maryland faces an impending shortage of trained technical career workers. Water and wastewater operators are particularly important as Maryland works to improve the environment and treatment plants get more sophisticated and technically complex.
MES, Lead Applicant for the EARN Grant, assembled a Planning Grant Applicant Group to address the most pressing issues facing the water and wastewater workforce in central Maryland – the coming shortage of qualified personnel; increasing demand for expertise in technology, compliance, and environmental regulation; barriers to workforce entry; a deficiency of required skills; and low pass rate of certification exams.
The proposed training plan will create a model career path for water/wastewater operators by consulting with industry stakeholders to define future needs, collecting data on current certified operators, identifying strategies to facilitate workforce entry and exploring opportunities for targeted training.
The final product will be a Strategic Industry Partnership Workforce Training Plan that seeks to solve the issues facing the water and wastewater workforce. The workforce that operates water and wastewater systems are particularly important and in need of expansion as state and federal governments are issuing increasingly stringent environmental regulations, thus requiring more complex water and wastewater treatment plants and a qualified workforce to operate them.
The Strategic Industry Partnership of Maryland Environmental Service, Charles County DPW, The Maryland Center for Environmental Training and the Maryland Rural Water Association look forward to beginning this important work and thanks the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation for their support.