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Preparing a Workforce for Smarter Water Infrastructure

Preparing a Workforce for Smarter Water Infrastructure

Clean water is critical to public health, vibrant economies, and healthy wildlife. The Northwest’s water utilities provide thousands of stable, living wage jobs to send clean drinking water to our homes, process wastewater that goes back into rivers and streams, and manage the runoff from city streets and businesses. In the next 50 years, those utilities will face unprecedented challenges to adapt to new regulatory requirements, a changing climate, and an aging workforce. Northwest utilities in urban and rural areas need a diverse workforce prepared to meet the challenges of the next half century.

Willamette Partnership and the Portland State University Center for Public Service are collaborating with partners across the region on 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. We investigated the critical barriers that water infrastructure providers face in developing and retaining a reliably qualified and talented workforce. Through surveys, interviews, and literature review we identified workforce-related barriers to high performance like availability of training programs, recruitment, and retention. We are directly sharing tailored recommendations for large, small, rural, and urban settings with utilities, technical training and apprenticeship programs, engineering and management programs of the region’s universities, and other workforce development partners to improve the region’s water infrastructure talent pipeline.

The Water Workforce Needs Assessment is one piece of the larger InfrastructureNext program, focused on the Northwest’s critical infrastructure. With our partners at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, we collaboratively support communities to strategically invest in cost-effective water infrastructure that meets their economic, environmental, and public health challenges today and make communities and their shared environment resilient for tomorrow.

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


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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

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Banner photo / Clean Water Services