Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District have forged a new partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District to introduce fifth grade students to opportunities and issues in the water and wastewater industry – including compelling career options.
The “Hydro Station” program is designed to address a significant shortage of skilled workers entering these career fields. Water agencies are facing a wave of retirements by Baby Boomer employees and a lack of skilled workers ready to replace them. Professionals surveyed for Water & Wastes Digest’s 2018 State of the Industry Report cited workforce development as one of the most important issues for 2019. Utilities nationwide are developing new ways of reaching students to encourage their participation in the industry.
Locally, more than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. The Chula Vista-based Sweetwater Authority, for example, anticipates a staffing crunch on the horizon. In the next five years, 50 percent of the agency’s workforce will be eligible for retirement.
Agencies restructuring educational outreach programs for 2019
While Sweetwater and Otay have conducted educational outreach programs since the 1990s, both agencies have experienced cutbacks due to budget constraints and navigated changes in science education standards.
Valuing the importance of education and working with local students, the two agencies are restructuring their educational outreach programs and focusing on partnerships with schools and community groups to reinvent and modernize the programs. The program design fits in with recent recommendations from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program on renewing the water workforce and creating a broader pool of prospective workers.
“We are super excited about our partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and Otay Water District in service to children and their families in our service area,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This program is the first of its kind in our region, and we look forward to making an impact by educating our youth about the wide variety of careers that we have to offer in the water industry.”
Program launches in Spring 2019 with 5,000 fifth grade students
The initial “Hydro Station” pilot program will launch in Spring 2019 with approximately 5,000 fifth grade students from the Chula Vista Elementary School District participating in the program annually.
Students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. Students will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options, and hands-on activities will help them make connections to specific careers.
The new Hydro Station is at the Sweetwater Authority’s Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility – an ideal location to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.
The program is funded in part by a grant from the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust. Funds from the trust cover production and distribution costs of educational materials, including field trip journals students will use during their experience at the Hydro Station.