Department of Workforce Development: Catch the Wave with Rewarding Work in Wisconsin’s Water Industry

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development secretary-designate Amy Pechacek and state water industry leaders have a message for job seekers, especially young students: test the waters and dive in! Rewarding careers in the water await!

DWD Secretary-Designate Amy Pechaeck is joined by Dean Amhaus, President and CEO of the Water Council; Claire Evans, HR Operations Manager, Badger Meter; Kevin Shafer, executive director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District; Scott Royer, CEO of Veolia, Milwaukee; and Jeff Spence, Director of Membership, MMSD. DWD Secretary Designate Amy Pechacek visited MMSD’s South Shore Water Reclamation Facility to learn about the water industry’s workforce development strategies and a new wastewater treatment technology being tested at the plant. Here, Dean Amhaus and MMSD Environmental Research Manager Matt Magruder share the details.

From engineers and plant operators to lab technicians, production workers and plumbers, water-related job opportunities exist in nearly every community in the state. The Milwaukee metro area alone is home to more than 200 water companies, including AO Smith and Badger Meter, as well as the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, an internationally renowned research facility.

While the worker quantity challenge affects nearly every industry, the essential nature of many jobs in the water industry makes workforce development a key priority for the sector. In Milwaukee, the innovative efforts of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Water Council, local Workforce Development Council Employ Milwaukee and other partners are yielding impressive results.

“The need for clean, fresh and affordable water never goes away, and with the introduction of more green technologies as well as a focus on economic, environmental and social sustainability, there is so much potential for this industry” said DWD Secretary-designate Amy Pechacek. “With more than 100 participants each year in MMSD’s outreach, career exploration and skills training programs, the District is creating a river of new talent for the sector. This momentum is really exciting.

Ahead of World Water Day, celebrated on March 22, Pechacek met with regional water leaders, including Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of MMSD; Dean Amhaus, President and CEO of the Water Board; Scott Royer, CEO of Veolia Milwaukee; and Claire Evans, Human Resources Operations Manager for Badger Meter. Earlier this month, MMSD received $1 million in Workforce Development funding from the US Department of Labor with the help of Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee.

Shafer said the district has invested in pre-apprenticeship training and placement programs offered by the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership Building Industry Group & Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP/BIGSTEP) for more than 20 years. In 2021, 91 apprentices employed by MMSD contractors performed 20% of all hours worked on district projects.

“Our investment in workforce development is designed to help ensure that MMSD’s future workforce and that of its contracted partners reflect the diversity of taxpayers and local ratepayers,” Shafer said. . “At its core, three things drive success: a portfolio of talent development initiatives across the career continuum targeting historically underrepresented communities; connecting talent development initiatives with real career opportunities through the application of social responsibility policies to MMSD procurement, and the creation of long-term strategic partnerships with shared results and mutual investment.

The US DOL’s $1 million funding will bolster the district’s workforce development efforts, including the Fresh Coast Ambassador Program, an entry-level green infrastructure program that introduces young people, aged 14-21, to career paths in the water industry and on the job. green infrastructure training. The Fresh Coast Ambassador program has served a total of 42 individuals since its inception in 2019. In addition to hosting some 35 of its own interns, the district also participates in regional science and engineering internships, an effort that aims to retain talented students. in the region by exposing them to career opportunities in engineering and planning companies and construction contractors.

The water industry’s workforce development efforts extend to regional job fairs, with two events in 2021 supported by MMSD, Milwaukee Water Works, Veolia Water Milwaukee, the Department of Milwaukee Public Works, Milwaukee County Parks and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Amhaus, of the Water Council, said these and other initiatives promise to build a water workforce with the ability to develop and implement new water technologies.

DWD Secretary Designate Amy Pechacek visited MMSD’s South Shore Water Reclamation Facility to learn about the water industry’s workforce development strategies and a new wastewater treatment technology being tested at the plant. Here, Dean Amhaus and MMSD Environmental Research Manager Matt Magruder share the details.

“People don’t think of water as a career option,” Amhaus said. “But one of the things we know is that there will always be a need for water jobs. It’s an industry that will always be there, because it’s just essential, obviously for humans, but also for the industry and the economy.

Pechacek’s meeting with Shafer, Amhaus and others at the district’s South Rim water reclamation facility in Oak Creek also highlighted potential future opportunities, including a new wastewater treatment process. as the pilot district and a $400 million Milwaukee Harbor and River Cleanup Project. Even before those opportunities became available, Badger Meter’s Evans and Veolia’s Royer said they had openings ranging from production workers to engineers.

“Although our origins are in water metering, we continue to innovate with new offerings that include water quality monitoring and software solutions for customers,” said Evans. She said the company’s high-tech products measure water flow and water quality, enabling continuous monitoring to ensure, for example, that municipal water systems are safe and secure.

Royer said tours of Jones Island, the water reclamation facility that Veolia operates for MMSD, are a way to introduce young people to the idea of ​​working in the water industry. The facility offers tours and sees around 5,000 visitors a year, with the majority concentrating on fifth-year college students.

Pechacek thanked the water partners for their regional collaboration and noted that helpful tools and resources offered by DWD are available to employers across the state, including: the Job Center of Wisconsin, connections to regional workforce development councils, Wisconsin apprenticeships, and youth learning opportunities. . DWD’s Regional Business Services Representatives and Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division can also help employers engage with underutilized labor pools, including veterans and job seekers with disabilities. .

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Michael A. Bynum