SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - A week after 9 Investigates reported Seminole County was struggling to fill wastewater operations positions, there's a new plan to steer students into the "water workforce."
Channel 9 first uncovered an audit underway into Seminole County’s water and wastewater treatment plants, where leaders have been struggling to fill at least 16 positions.
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Now, in just a few months, local high school students will have an opportunity to fast-track themselves into those types of jobs.
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Studies show this is an industry-wide issue. In the next decade, about one-third of all water and wastewater utility workers are expected to retire, and local leaders want students to know this is a workforce that does not require a degree.
“The national need for plant operators has grown up because many of these projects were built 25, 30 years ago and hired people at that time as new plant operators,” Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said.
A consulting firm warned Seminole County leaders of the trend last spring, noting "significant turnover" with "poor to no response when positions are posted for hire."
Original coverage: Seminole County struggling to fill wastewater operation positions
Now, Seminole County, Seminole County Public Schools and Altamonte Springs are teaming up with the city’s "Science Incubator" program to provide high school students on-site training and the opportunity to test for the license needed to become a plant operator. The e-pathways course will launch in August, with a first class of 10 students from Lake Brantley High School.
“It would be our hope that the kids that get into this program will get their license in the class before they graduate,” Martz explained.
Martz says Altamonte Springs hires plant operators at $40,000 a year, with an earning potential up to more than $100,000 annually.
County-by-County: More news from Seminole County
The Brookings Institute found more than half the water workforce, 53 percent, has a high school diploma or less.
“Kids have been focused on going to college and not recognizing these types of technical jobs are here for the asking,” Martz said. “And we're going to train them to get them.”
The most recent numbers show the Orlando metro area has more than 13,000 people employed in the water workforce, with 5 percent of those jobs being water plant operators.
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