Water industry grappling with aging workforce & hundreds of vacancies

Mentoring program places youth in water jobs
Posted at 6:19 PM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 07:06:02-04

The water industry is in crisis mode.

In Baltimore and nationwide, there are fewer people looking to fill the jobs of those who provide us with clean drinking water.

“I would say more than 50 percent of our folks have already reached retirement age, but the fact that there's no one behind them to succeed them is problematic,” said Baltimore City Department of Public Works director Rudy Chow.

And with hundreds of DPW vacancies already, the City is racing the clock.

In 2015, DPW and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development came together to address the shortage. They launched a mentoring program to fill the need by giving others an opportunity.

“Young people who were either sitting at home not doing anything or they were working two, three fast food jobs or low part-time jobs and really understood that they needed a career,” said Ernest Dorsey, the assistant director of youth services with the Mayor's Office of Employment Development.

The Baltimore City Water Industry Career Mentoring Program provides a pathway to a steady career with benefits. The program is open to young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, with a high school diploma or GED.

Twice a week for six months, program participants take tours, meet with industry professionals, and receive hands-on experience. They’re also assigned a career coach who helps prepare them for when the program ends.

“Once they graduate from the program they are eligible, we don't guarantee, but they are eligible to be interviewed for employment opportunities with public works and the water industry in Baltimore City,” Dorsey said.

He added that out of the two classes so far, every one of the 30 participants was offered a job with public works.

Jobs in the water industry include fixing pipes, collecting water samples, working in administration or customer service, among many others.

“It's a very noble job. It's really serving the public, and it's a very steady job as well. It's sort of recession-proof that's what I always tell the folks,” said Chow. “When there’s a recession, people still have to drink the water, still have to flush the toilets and so on, and all that so there's a bit more stability in terms of job security.”

It also pays fairly well. Starting pay for entry-level jobs in the water industry is around $30,000 plus benefits.

“There is a clear career path for young people if they're really interested in sustaining themselves and families,” said Dorsey.

Twenty-two-year-old Daytron Davis never considered the line of work but then saw an ad for the program and decided to give it a try.

“Before the program, I was unemployed. I figured doing this would give me an opportunity especially since it's more so a career and plenty of room for promotion,” Davis said.

Davis graduated the program and is now a seasonal maintenance aid and general laborer at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“I'm in the process of becoming an operation technician. I took my test, I passed with a 93,” said Davis.

Now he's waiting for a promotion.

“I always joke around and tell everybody that I'll be running this plant one day, so you know maybe,” said Davis.

Davis already has his foot in the door, and he's determined to move through the pipeline.

The program is in its third class. Applications are accepted in January and the program runs February through the end of August.

The mentoring program has been so successful, the Mayor's Office of Employment Development is using it as a model for other industries with a workforce need. Recently, they launched a pilot program that places high school seniors into jobs as survey technicians.

For more information on the Baltimore City Water Industry Career Mentoring Program and other youth job training opportunities, click here.