With aging workers, Idaho water seeks next generation

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  • Photo courtesy of IDAHO RURAL WATER ASSOCIATION

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    Photo courtesy of IDAHO RURAL WATER ASSOCIATION

  • Photo courtesy of IDAHO RURAL WATER ASSOCIATION

  • 1

    Photo courtesy of IDAHO RURAL WATER ASSOCIATION

Safe, plentiful and affordable drinking water, environmentally sound wastewater treatment, and the people who maintain the systems are some of Idaho’s most precious resources and something many people take for granted.

“We are encouraging our 120 members to plan for the future,” said Kelsie Cole, apprenticeship coordinator for the Idaho Rural Water Association. “More than half the professionals who oversee or operate Idaho’s drinking water and wastewater facilities are within 10 years or less of retirement. One-third are more than 55 years old. Another 30 percent are over age 45.”

Cole’s job is to meet the demand for future operators by pairing quality job candidates with a new statewide apprenticeship program involving 120 Idaho cities and communities that operate drinking water and wastewater systems throughout the state.

The Association is using a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to recruit job candidates interested in a career managing Idaho’s drinking water or wastewater systems. What they need is more Idaho cities and communities willing to step up and offer the on-the-job training component of the apprenticeship program.

Six Idaho communities have stepped up so far — the City of Buhl hired two apprentices, and the cities of Carey, Preston, New Plymouth and Grand View each hired one.

The Idaho Rural Water Association wants to sign up a few more communities to participate and hopes to place an additional 35 people in registered apprenticeships.

“Some of our cities say they don’t know where to find people,” Cole said. “We can help them find apprenticeship candidates. People from all walks-of-life have expressed interest. What we need are more Idaho communities willing to step up and offer the hands-on training and work experience.”

The Association’s apprenticeship program includes two years of training for job candidates through paid positions, typically offering a wage of $12-$20/hour, depending on location.

Once an apprentice completes an apprenticeship, many host companies hire them full time. Nationally, apprenticeship sponsors hire 87 percent of the people who participate in their training programs.

According to John Russ, state apprenticeship coordinator at the Idaho Department of Labor, the number of registered Idaho apprenticeships has doubled in the last two years. Today, these registered apprenticeship programs produce competent, job-ready workers with detailed knowledge, specific skill sets and job proficiency.

According to Russ, the Association’s apprenticeship program is a great opportunity for job seekers interested in a career protecting Idaho’s environment and water. Apprenticeships can lead to a long-term job in an industry that generally pays well and has a history of employees who work there for many years or even decades.

“Sponsored apprenticeships are good for rural Idaho,” Russ said, Idaho Apprenticeship coordinator. “They allow Idahoans to work in scenic mountain locations where good-paying jobs are not always easy to find.”

“It’s a gateway to a great career,” Cole said.

At a minimum, Cole said applicants need a high school degree or equivalent to participate in the Association’s program, which includes 288 hours of classroom instruction and 4,000 hours of on-the-job training to become a certified journey-level operations specialist.

Successful candidates are responsible for finding their own housing. Those with military experience can use the GI bill to help with housing costs.

Businesses that wish to sponsor a registered apprentice should visit ApprenticeshipIdaho.gov or contact John Russ at 208-332-3570 x 3303 or by email at john.russ@labor.idaho.gov.

Idaho cities, counties and job seekers interested in Idaho Rural Water Association’s apprenticeship program should contact coordinator Kelsie Cole, at (208) 343-7001, kcole@idahoruralwater.comor visit idahoruralwater.com.

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