The need to have a strong connection between business and education is everywhere. The success of building a workforce for clean energy and other sustainable technologies depends on it.
Recently, I’ve been learning about the growing field of education and training for water management and technologies. Water is essential to life and, in the western world, we’ve come to expect and depend on ready accessibility and high quality. Water is in our kitchens, bathrooms, bottles and swimming pools – clean and abundant. However, the world of water is changing. Extreme weather causes high flow situations, which our current infrastructure cannot handle. We have increased our water consumption. The increase in nutrients from fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorus) and non-flushable products is stressing our treatment methodologies.
These issues are all compounded by the fact that our workforce is aging along with our infrastructure. New technologies and new skills are required as waste water management is redefined for resource recovery, focused not just on clean water, but also recovery of biosolids for fertilizer, and waste heat (from the treatment process) for energy.
Fortunately, as presented in the webinar Community Colleges, Education, and the Impending Water Crisis Community Colleges, Education, and the Impending Water Crisis, hosted by the AACC SEED Center (American Association of Community Colleges, Sustainability Education and Economic Development), business and education are working to set the foundation for training to meet these workforce needs. The curriculum for water management is being reconstructed. The ATEEC (Advanced Technology Environmental Energy Center) has been working with industry to update the field and the job categories. And, working with educational providers, six regional water conservation forums are being held to understand the needs in different parts of the country, including at: Lane Community College, Bristol Community College, Central Carolina Technical College, Cuyamaca College, Red Rocks Community College, and Eastern Iowa Community College.
From these forums, it has become clear that the issues related to water are regional. In Colorado, water rights issues are at the forefront, while in the northeastern United States the issue of pipelines, which were built to last 80 years and are now over 100 years old, is a bigger issue.
Effective training and skills development that prepares a workforce to address these issues is all about the linkage between industry and education. Define the jobs, define the skills required for those jobs (preferably through a job task analysis), then develop the curriculum to teach these skills. These are the basics.
The IREC Credentialing Program provides the framework to assess the quality of training in all clean energy and sustainability technologies, including water. With the development of the six regional water conservation forums, we believe the water industry is taking the right first steps.
We’ll continue to watch these activities – particularly how the industry and business work together – and the impact it has on the development of effective, quality training for the workforce. The success of this linkage affects all of us – something to think about as you sip your next glass of water.
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