With the San Bernardino region in deepening economic crisis due to the pandemic and the water industry facing a pending shortage of skilled workers, the West Valley Water District (WVWD) Board of Directors approved a partnership with Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) to create an Inland Empire Water Career Pathways Program (IEWCPP) that will help fill a critical skills gap and provide over a hundred jobs for local students and residents.
“We’re holding ourselves accountable not only for what we do today, but for the future as well. JVS' proven track record in managing water industry training programs makes them an excellent partner for an apprenticeship program with the West Valley," said Board President Channing Hawkins. "We’re looking forward to a creating a successful partnership with JVS and providing more local residents and students with the opportunity to earn a good living and succeed.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the water and wastewater industry is facing a significant number of retirements by water treatment plant and system operators over the next three to five years. At some agencies, vacancy rates for skilled positions are as high as 50 percent. With demand for water services across the country continuing to grow, skilled workers are necessary to maintain and expand the country’s water infrastructure.
The Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy organization, published a report stating 72 percent of employees within the water industry are white. Under the IEWCPP, WVWD will actively work to address the barriers in having a representative workforce of the local community it serves. In addition, individuals will have access to the hundreds of jobs in our local community that are anticipated to become vacant in the coming years due to the retirements in the water industry.
The new WVWD IEWCPP is a paid learning and job placement program that will provide much-needed skills and staff to help meet the rising demand for the region’s water industry jobs. Under the program, WVWD is expected to help serve 170 San Bernardino residents and hire 116 people by the end of 2023. WVWD will work with JVS to develop the IEWCPP, which will utilize an employer-driven "learn-while-you-earn" model that combines on-the-job training with an instructional curriculum that is tied to attaining a level of proficiency that meets national skills standards. As an apprentice progresses through the program, their wages will increase to reflect their growing skills. JVS is the leading job training agency that helps nearly 2,500 people every year build skills and secure good, living wage jobs.
The WVWD IEWCPP program is modeled on a successful JVS program with Baywork, a collaborative regional effort between 38 water and wastewater agencies in the Bay Area that addresses workforce development and reliability challenges. In 2016, Baywork partnered with JVS to reassess industry needs and implement training programs. From 2017 to 2018 alone, in the Bay Area JVS program helped 75 percent of working graduates earn at least $40,000 annually.
Following the board vote and adoption of the partnership, the next step involves securing grant funding from available county, state, and federal education resources. If funding is secured in the next several months, WVWD projects that the first internships and apprenticeships will be available to Inland Empire residents by the middle of 2021. For more information about training, jobs and opportunities with the WVWD IEWCPP, please contact Public Affairs Manager Naseem Farooqi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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