ATE Small Grant Project Description
Bridging the Water Divide: Training a New Generation of Water Technicians
Currently, there is a disparity between student preparedness and regional job opportunities in Water Supply Technology (WST) that reflects a larger trend in the Inland Empire—an overall shortage of skilled workers for professional jobs. Local water supplies are being affected by dramatic population growth in the Inland Empire, a region of Southern California served by San Bernardino Valley College. The population of the region currently totals more than 4 million residents and is projected to continue to increase over the next two decades. For example, Eastern Municipal Water District, which covers 542 square miles of Riverside County, estimates that by 2030 more than 100,000 homes will be added within its boundaries, nearly doubling the number of residences it serves. Agencies in the region are increasingly relying on recycled water and desalinated water to serve their customers. These agencies need technicians who are trained in the latest technological advances, who can perform water audits to reduce excess water use, and who understand advanced conservation measures.
San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC), through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Small Grant, requested funding to address the need for the Bridging the Water Divide: Training a New Generation of Water Technicians project, which aimed to develop new WST coursework, form a consortium of regional WST stakeholders, and strengthen outreach to attract more women and minority students to the WST field. This project is a collaborative effort among industry, educational institutions, and government agencies, many of which have already offered input on how training can be tailored to effectively meet industry needs. This project secured support from the department’s Advisory Board, comprising representatives from 20 agencies, including San Bernardino County, City of San Bernardino, Riverside Community College, San Bernardino Community College District, West Valley Water District, and Metropolitan Water District. SBVC has established a long history in water technology and a strong advisory council with partners willing to expand internship and employment opportunities.
Water Supply Technology (WST) Coursework
The existing curriculum offered by the Water Supply Technology and Engineering Department provides training for employment in water distribution, water treatment, wastewater treatment, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) applications. The courses are closely aligned to the subject matter and knowledge required to pass one or two levels of the state licensing examinations. These certificate programs, which require 18 units in water courses, provide short-term access to employment with skills used in the green arena. Students are prepared to take the state licensure exam at the lowest level (D1 or T1) after one class. Advanced classes prepare students for higher levels of state exams and count toward a WST associates degree.
Since experience in the field is required for employment in many areas of the water industry, work experience and paid internships are an important component of student education. SBVC has offered the WST Program for more than 30 years, and the department estimates that more than 80% of the workforce in the water industry for the surrounding area has been trained in the program.
WST academic training leads to stable, well-paid, long-term employment. But unless students have a family member who works in the field of water supply technology, they are usually unaware that such opportunities exist. Although enrollment in WST courses had been increasing, less than 9% of enrollees are women. In addition, African American, Native American and Hispanic students are underrepresented in WST compared to general enrollment at the college. Traditionally, these jobs have been held by white males, however, the demographics in the WST courses seemed to reflect these statistics. Unfortunately, most minority students did not appear to be aware of the opportunities available in the field. The project is intended to engage the interest of female and minority students in coursework and careers related to WST.
The Bridging the Water Divide: Training a New Generation of Water Technicians Grant Project has the potential to serve as a national model, to provide groundwork in the development of successful partnerships that bridge the private and public sectors, and to establish workforce strategies of value that can be replicated in other regions, particularly in regions where water is becoming more limited. As extreme as the need is here in Southern California to manage our water resources, this same need exists elsewhere. Areas that once seemed to have enough water to sustain their population growth are discovering that their resources have been depleted. For example, until recently Atlanta, Georgia, was thought to have adequate freshwater resources, but a prolonged drought created a water shortage in that region and caused much debate over the effective management of one of the city’s most important natural resources. It is expected that as clean water becomes scarcer due to pollution, population growth, urbanization, and global warming, these issues will become more prevalent—and more pressing.
There is a critical need for developing curriculum and programs to train technicians in sustainable strategies to conserve water, a limited resource in the United States. We believe the project advances the existing framework that is currently used in higher education in order to not only prepare students to obtain WST jobs, but to prepare those students for changing workforce needs. Training in conservation, water audits, and horticultural applications as well as an understanding of the complexity and interrelationship of regional water sources is of growing importance to employers.
For example, California ranks among the top three states in the nation for water consumption. The state Department of Water Resources forecasts a gap between water supply and demand by 2020, of up to 6.2 million acre-feet in drought years. A number of factors are converging within California that will likely create demand in the future for technicians who are well versed in the technological and conservation issues affecting the water supply in the West. Those factors include a prolonged drought along the Colorado River, a prolonged drought in Southern California that has depleted aquifers and stretched local resources thin, and a 30% reduction in the water supplied to Southern California from the Sacramento delta due to the endangered delta smelt.
The Bridging the Water Divide project has several benefits to society: it will benefit the water and wastewater industry by filling a need for trained workers; it will train technicians who in addition to applying their knowledge base to their jobs, will bring their experience to bear in the communities where they reside; it will develop a program that addresses how to effectively train low-income and minority students to fill stable, well-paying jobs that have traditionally been held by white males. Students need a clear pathway to meet the criteria required for a career in WST. Given SBVC’s diverse student body, the college is poised to prepare a diverse WST workforce, comprising many first generation college-goers. Because the college’s diverse demographic has not translated to the WST student population, the college believes there is a need for a program that presents an opportunity for both career-enhancing work and education.
Given the high unemployment rate in the county and the city of San Bernardino, the community needs a trained and educated workforce that can enter the job market and adapt to emerging technologies. Area employers are looking for “home grown” students to recruit and maintain among their ranks. These industries were very interested in forming alliances within the WST Program to promote the development and training of potential new employees. The project will contribute to a knowledge base of what factors and program components can best support the participation and retention of women and minorities in the water industry, to assist other research and implementation efforts in this area.