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The Metropolitan District (MDC) faces a similar challenge that other water and wastewater utilities all across the country are currently facing: an aging workforce.
With nearly 50 percent of the MDC’s workforce eligible to retire in the next five years, we needed to implement additional workforce-development initiatives to prepare the organization for succession-planning efforts.
Four years ago, we recognized that public interest in water and wastewater jobs (and utilities in general) is often low because public understanding of the variety of the careers offered by the industry is equally low.
In order to raise awareness and increase overall understanding of what we do, the MDC partnered with high schools in the towns we serve and developed a curriculum for a unique internship called the “Learn and Earn” program.
The Learn and Earn program is a four-week paid summer internship that introduces 10 to 12 high school students from member towns to potential careers at the MDC. The students are exposed to the cross sections of our business, including distribution-system operations, water and wastewater plant operations, water-quality analysis, engineering, customer service, safety and GIS.
In the first two weeks, students participate in tours, hear presentations by MDC staff and outside instructors, and conduct activities such as testing water samples and creating filters.
In the following two weeks, students are placed into a department of their choice and receive hands-on training. At the conclusion of the program, a ceremony is held where the students receive certificates, share their experiences with presentations, and watch a video that chronicles their journey.
In addition to the curriculum, interns learn that excellent careers are available in the industry for students who may not want or be able to attend college immediately after high school. Many of these entry-level jobs pay very competitively and do not require a college degree.
For example, the state Department of Public Health requires the completion of a public water system operator certification program in order to obtain certain positions at water utilities such as the MDC.
Building off the success of the Learn and Earn program, we developed a water curriculum with Bloomfield High School that introduces students to careers at the MDC during the school year. Together with the Learn and Earn program and our traditional college internship program and workforce-recruitment efforts, the MDC is well equipped with tools to invest in creating our own talent pipeline directly from the communities we serve.
Scott Jellison is the CEO of the Metropolitan District Commission, which provides water, sewer and household hazardous waste-collection services in Greater Hartford.
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