September 10, 2023

Rethinking the Rural Workforce Roadmap

Workforce. It has become a buzzword in the water and wastewater industry and is certainly an issue we cannot overlook. Recently, I had the privilege of attending a U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA) invitation-only event in Crystal City, Virginia. The purpose of the ETA Vision 2030 conference was to bring together representatives from across the workforce ecosystem to lay out a workforce vision that can expand opportunities for workers and communities; develop new industry partnerships that lead to real, good jobs; build a better care economy; and take action today for the future of work.

Other attendees included representatives from state and local workforce boards, education and training providers, state workforce agencies, community colleges, employers, unions, industry associations, training intermediaries, philanthropy, community-based organizations, academic researchers, and federal and other government partners. Companies of every size and industry, across nearly every state, are facing unprecedented workforce challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs. According to a recent study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce1, we have 9.9 million job openings in the U.S. but only 5.8 million unemployed workers. I was one of the few rural voices at the table, and this information opened my eyes to the unique challenges Rural Water is facing and will continue to face unless we make a change. Rural communities have additional workforce challenges that other industries do not: the desire of youth to leave rural areas, limited resources, lower wages, lack of succession planning and retention, and smaller talent pools.