There is a shortage of highly skilled individuals able to fill the growing demand of work in the water reclamation field.
But the Jefferson County Commission’s Water Reclamation High School Internship Program is looking to change that.
Coupled with a retiring and maturing workforce and a workforce predominately made up of white males, the need for talent is more intense, said Loren Warren, talent sourcing manager for Jefferson County’s human resources department. So the County has had to become more creative and targeted in its pursuit of establishing a pipeline of skilled and diverse employees.
“We are looking to build a culture of diversity around Environmental Services careers,” she said. “We want to bring awareness to water reclamation and encourage more diversity in the field by targeting students who want to take the career path on and who are diverse as well.”
The program’s inaugural year was last summer, when four high school interns – one from Bessemer, two from Clay-Chalkville and one from Midfield – took part in the internship program in the Environmental Services department. The four-week internship sought to enhance awareness of the department and career opportunities within water reclamation, also known as wastewater treatment - careers including operators, civil engineers, electricians and more.
Water reclamation work ensures that safe water goes back to the county’s streams, lakes, rivers and waterways, continually monitoring that all wastewater systems are operating at appropriate levels and partnering with maintenance crews to fix any issues.
“Our hope is to develop a pipeline of diverse, qualified talent to fulfill future vacancies in the Environmental Services department,” Warren said.
It’s a career path that has tremendous job security, said Marc Crenshaw, human resources advisor for the Environmental Services department.
“There is a high need nationally for certified operators,” he said. “[Our program] gives students a great opportunity to see a growing path long term.”
One of the four graduates of the internship program, Ramon Murrell, landed a job in Jefferson County’s General Services Department as a result of participating in the internship program.
“My experience allowed me to learn how to work as a team,” he said. “I learned how various machinery works and experienced hands-on activities such as testing different water samples while visiting Jefferson County’s Environmental Services Barton Laboratory. Now I understand that this is an important part of keeping the environment safe.”
Murrell said networking experiences as a part of the internship allowed him to meet different people in the County that ultimately led to his employment.
In addition to learning about what a water reclamation employee does, including interfacing with various other jobs connected to water reclamation work, the interns learned about how to develop an effective resume and gave a presentation at the end of the internship on what they learned to family, friends and employees of Jefferson County. Interns were paid an hourly rate of $10.98.
The pilot year is just the beginning for the program, Warren said. Next year, they plan to grow from four interns to 20, and they are currently implementing an apprenticeship that those graduating from the program can feed into after the internship is done. Next year, the program will be eight weeks instead of four and will continue to recruit diverse talent.
“Our hope and goal is to have the program become very large and robust,” Crenshaw said. “Hopefully the program can be a model for other parts of the country and become something long-lasting here in the County.”