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EPA warns of aging workforce within water industry- WBAY (posted June 26, 2019)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- “If we don’t take the time to train, diversify the workforce and bring in the next generation of water and waste-water treatment operators, the people who protect us every day, are not going to be there in 10-15 years,” said David Ross, assistant water administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency.
During his visit to Green Bay earlier this week, Ross made it clear he is worried about the aging workforce within the water industry, calling it ‘daunting.’
Action 2 News toured Green Bay Water Utility’s filter plant on Wednesday and most of the workers have been in the business for decades.
Ross said the filter plant technicians and the water quality managers are the true environmental heroes.
“They are protecting our public health every single day,” said Ross. “We don’t talk about them enough and if we don’t start talking about them, we are not going to have them around to protect our public health 10-15 years from now.”
Ross said there’s a water workforce problem across the country. The Green Bay Water Utility has witnessed this first hand.
 
“It took us 6 months to hire a filter plant operator recently, so we need to be out there,” said Nancy Quirk, general manager for the Green Bay Water Utility. Quirk said the person they hired just graduated from college last month. He is replacing an employee that was there for 40 years.
“We did an engagement survey with our employees we look at how to make our workforce better, we are also working on doing some recruitment,” said Quirk. “We are doing a market study on salaries so we can be competitive in the market place as well.”
Meanwhile, UW-Green Bay is doing what it can to fill the future gap with skilled workers.
“We’ve got our new environmental engineering technology program which would certainly provide students with skills and capabilities to work in some of these position,” said John Katers, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) at UW-Green Bay. “As of this coming fall, we will be starting a brand new program in water science which will be focused on some of these issues as well.”
Katers also mentioned the importance of helping out local water treatment facilities.
“Having the right people and having trained professionals is obviously vitally important to maintaining infrastructure for our community,” said Katers.
“The money we throw in to build infrastructure, if you don’t have the workforce to run it, you are not protecting those tax-payer investments,” said Ross. 

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