NRWA Advances Profession with Industry Competency Model, Takes Steps Toward Apprenticeships

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association recently collaborated with the Department of Labor and other water organizations to revise the Water and Wastewater Competency Model, a framework for describing the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a given industry.

“NRWA representatives participated in a Department of Labor Energy Sector of Excellence in Apprenticeship meeting with partner industries and reviewed their Water and Wastewater Competency Model,” said Matthew Holmes, NRWA Deputy CEO. “They helped develop national guidelines for the workplace competencies and technical instruction necessary to prepare students to be successful, well-rounded professionals. For example, in addition to the attainment of specific industry-wide competencies, the ability to communicate with engineers and regulators was identified as a critical competency for water and wastewater operations specialists.”

The updates to the Model more accurately reflect the needs of small water and wastewater utilities. The new model will also provide a roadmap for developing the NRWA Workforce Advancement Center’s WaterPro Apprenticeship program.

“There’s a tremendous need to get younger people into the industry, particularly for small systems in rural areas,” Holmes said. “In addition to the general exodus of young people from rural areas, our industry is not viewed as a good career option. High school students are not aware of it. The opportunity to acquire a nationally-recognized apprenticeship credential has the potential to heighten that awareness.”

NRWA announced the Workforce Advancement Center and the apprenticeship program at a media event last November. The apprenticeship program will initially be tailored to water system operations specialists, wastewater system operations specialists, and water utility system customer service personnel.  In addition, the Advancement Center will develop career pathways into the water sector for high school students, establish industry training certifications, connect workers with employers through a job network, and serve as an online clearinghouse for resources.

“Our goal is to complete the water and wastewater operations specialist guideline standards and training curriculum by summer 2017,” Holmes said. “We hope to begin recruiting ‘earn and learn’ apprenticeship prospects by the end of 2017.”