Water infrastructure employment: A pipeline to opportunity

A Texas Department of Transportation worker monitors a temporary water filled dam keeping Harvey floodwaters from getting onto highway I-10 in Houston, Texas August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking - RC1FDAADF450
Editor's note:

Sarah Miner contributed to this post

Americans don’t often think about water infrastructure – or all the workers who help maintain it –but these workers are essential to our lives and well-being. Holding jobs that range from lawyers to technicians, water workers oversee the infrastructure that allows Americans to drink clean water, take reliable showers, and perform other routine tasks every day. While doing so, these workers also enjoy good wages and develop marketable skills. However, due to large numbers of workers set to retire in the coming years, their numbers are dwindling. Without replacement workers, the future of U.S. water infrastructure is in trouble. A recently released report by Joseph Kane and Adie Tomer from the Metropolitan Policy Program highlights the valuable opportunity that the water infrastructure industry offers to American workers. With above average wages, a large number of job openings, and lower formal educational barriers to entry, the water sector can be an accessible vehicle for Americans to earn a livable wage.

Recently, the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program hosted an event that brought together utility and workforce experts to discuss how local, community, and national leaders can capitalize on the ample employment opportunities in the water sector.

At the event, Brookings scholar Joseph Kane explained that individuals working in the water sector earn higher salaries on average when compared to all other American workers, and he pointed out that the benefits are especially pronounced for workers at the lower end of the income scale.

Representative Garret Graves (R-La.) spoke about the importance of water resources to his home state of Louisiana. He discussed how Hurricane Katrina was a wakeup call for the community, and how it prompted long overdue water infrastructure reform. He also laid out how, when it comes to water resources, being proactive can save lives as well as money.

“We have to do a better job recruiting,” said Kishia Powell, Atlanta’s commissioner for the Department of Watershed Management, in response to an audience question on how to get young people interested in water jobs. She outlined various initiatives that Atlanta is using to get students as young as elementary school age interested in working in the water sector, including career days, internship programs, and more.

Watch the full event here.