Silver Tsunami for the Water Industry

By: Steven Lambert | Feb 01, 2021

There is a looming crisis in the water industry, mainly in plant operating personnel, as the present pool of personnel age out and leave the industry for retirement. Many in the industry are calling it the “Silver Tsunami” as a wave of older personnel leave the industry, taking their knowledge, skills, and certifications with themIt is estimated that over the next ten years between 30% and 50% of these positions will be left vacant. The next ten years will reveal a deficit of operators if something cannot be done to counter the problem. Health and safety issues will arise as the situation continues, due to understaffed facilities with less experienced personnel. The experience and skills gap will get critical sooner rather than later, prompting the need for proactive approaches to the problem now. 

 Recruiting New Staff 

Not enough people are interested in these water operator positions.  

Some are giving this serious attention and attempting to take steps to solve or mitigate the problem by outreach to the public, “advertising” the advantages of employment and the importance of these positions. Some of these approaches show promise. 

Proactive systems have employed methods for public outreach to educate the general public on the critical necessity of the services the operator provides the community. The extensive use of science and technology in this field are definitely good press. After all, people drink the water. One resource that can be shared online is the website: workforwater.org (https://www.workforwater.org/).  

Programs should get into high school career day programs and place this field in the view of upcoming graduates. There is also the option to integrate apprenticeship programs. A lot of these positions offer attractive opportunities for high school graduates who are not planning to pursue a college degree and must still find employment. Working one’s way through college is also a possibility while working as an operator. 

 Entry Level Pay 

Not many jobs offer entry level positions to high school graduates without certificates or licenses. Jobs in this field allow high school graduates to start at a decent wage, but the entry level pay ranges should certainly be addressed to attract new employees. A lowlevel entry wage is a disincentive to enter this line of employment. The importance of this work deserves financial reward 

Water and Wastewater treatment Plant and System Operators (BLS) 
2019 Median Pay  $47,760 per year 

$22.96 per hour 

Entry-Level Education  High school diploma or equivalent 
Employment Change 2019-2029  -5,400 

 According to a survey from Payscale, water treatment operators earn between $14 and $29 per hour.   Other than wages and salary concerns, the benefits packages are often sufficient, but this is another area that could be improved to attract more entry level employees. 

Career Advancement 

Working towards more advanced credentials will be required and pay incentives are often given for each level of achievement. As the operator gains skill and experience, advancement in the field is certainly an attractive possibility. Alsothe personal prestige of an important public health position will be attractive to some.  

Training for credentials requires certain levels of experience, so the prospective operator will have access to onthejob training and career advancement. 

Water Sector Workforce Initiative 

In October of 2020, the EPA released America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative to work with stakeholders in the water industry to build a skilled, sustainable water workforce. More information about this initiative can be found on the EPA’s website. (https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure/americas-water-sector-workforce-initiative 

Act Now 

This crisis can be avertedIt is time, however, for systems management to get to work! 

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