Preparing a Workforce for Water Infrastructure









A Water Workforce Needs Assessment

Surveying the jobs and skills needed for the next wave of water utility workers

The Pacific Northwest faces billions of dollars in investments to update its water infrastructure to serve growing cities, address a changing climate, and restore rivers. Willamette Partnership and Portland State University’s Center for Public Service, in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, are partnering to learn how workforce development can best support Northwest utilities to design, build, and maintain the infrastructure of tomorrow. Learn more below.


NEW: Read the findings of the “2019 Water Infrastructure Workforce Report” summarizing over 230 responses to our survey that explored utility attitudes about the state of their workforce, needs for the future, and interest in possible tools to address workforce challenges.

2019 PNW Water Infratructure workforce report

(Download the two-page handout)


Clean water is critical to public health, vibrant economies, and healthy wildlife. The Northwest’s water utilities provide clean drinking water to our homes, process wastewater that goes back into rivers and streams, and manage the runoff from city streets and businesses. They also provide thousands of stable, living wage jobs.

In the next 50 years, those utilities will face unprecedented challenges. Across the Northwest, the sector needs to adapt to new regulatory requirements, a changing climate, and an aging workforce. For urban areas, those issues are compounded by the need to keep pace with population growth. In rural areas, the challenge is more often about accessing the funding or financing to make costly upgrades. Northwest utilities need a diverse and prepared workforce to meet those challenges.


Willamette Partnership and the Portland State University Center for Public Service are collaborating with partners across the region to launch a workforce needs assessment for the Northwest’s water utility sector to learn how we can recruit and prepare workers for the infrastructure challenges of our future.

Throughout 2018, the project team will investigate the critical barriers that water infrastructure providers face in developing and retaining a reliably qualified and talented workforce. The team will use surveys, interviews, and literature review to identify workforce-related barriers to high performance (such as availability of training programs, recruitment, retention, etc.) and propose solutions to improve the region’s water infrastructure talent pipeline, including tailored recommendations for large, small, rural, and urban settings.

In 2019, we will begin sharing the findings by reaching out to utilities, technical training and apprenticeship programs, engineering and management programs of the region’s universities, and other workforce development partners.

We love this Water Environment Federation video about choosing a career in the water workforce.


The Water Workforce Needs Assessment is one piece of the larger Infra-NEXT project, focused on the Northwest’s critical infrastructure. The project team includes Willamette Partnership, Portland State University’s Center for Public Service, and the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure. In addition to the workforce needs assessment, the Infra-NEXT team is providing technical assistance to communities actively working through innovative infrastructure investments, like planning a multi-use regional stormwater park, developing a smarter power grid, or rethinking transportation systems. The team brings value planning and data visualization assistance tools that can help communities rethink projects, plan smarter, and build capacity.

News and Publications


Get in touch about the water workforce needs assessment.


Kristiana Teige Witherill staff photo


Have questions about our work on related to water infrastructure workforce development?

Kristiana Teige Witherill, Partner, Natural Infrastructure
email |
office | 503.946.1904

We’re helping water utilities save money and fish by investing to restore cold water in the Willamette River.



Banner photo / Clean Water Services