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The Water Industry’s Impending Silver Tsunami (with TN Assoc. Utility Districts, Pellissippi State, Cumberland River Compact, and TN STEM Innovation Network)

May 11, 2022

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Clean and abundant water is provided to communities across the United States by skilled and trained environmental professionals. Yet the water workforce is facing an impending retirement crisis, with an expected 30 to 50 percent of the workforce retiring in the next decade. The crisis has reached emergency levels in many rural communities. At the same time, our water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure are in desperate need of reinvestment to be resilient for the future, and stricter guidelines are coming out to protect water.  Ensuring clean water is available to communities necessitates a highly-skilled, trained, and certified workforce.

The 2018 state water report, Tennessee H20, outlines the crisis we could face. It states that while protecting the availability of water in our state is important, “equal attention must be given to the critical need associated with a diminishing workforce charged with the maintenance, security, and growth of our infrastructure investment. The state is quickly reaching the disturbing point of not having a sufficient number of operators to protect, manage, and maintain these systems in the future.

In today’s River Talk, we dive into the water workforce crisis and its impacts on our state, plus we explore how to connect young people to these rewarding STEM careers. Our guests on the podcast include Kevin Byrd from the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, Cristina Carbajo with the Water Quality Technology Program at Pellissippi State Community College, Misty Brown with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, and, of course, the Cumberland River Compact. These diverse partners come together in a unique collaborative approach to addressing the water workforce crisis and to providing clean water for Tennesseeans.

About Today’s Guests:

Kevin Byrd is the Workforce Development Coordinator with the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts. In his role, he supports the Apprenticeship Program that places new people in positions across water utilities to receive on-the-job training and support to receive certification.

Cristina Carbajo is the Program Coordinator and Instructor with the  Water Quality Technology Program at Pellissippi State Community College. She designs and implements curricula for the new program to fill the crucial need for more water and wastewater operators.

Misty Brown is a STEM Relationship Manager with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. She supports partners across the state of Tennessee addressing STEM education and workforce development needs.

In This Podcast:

  • A look at what we mean when we talk about the water workforce.
  • The multiple factors impacting the dire need in the water industry right now.
  • The changing skills and education needed to excel in the water industry.
  • How to expand awareness of water industry careers.
  • The water industry as a STEM in action career.

Learn more about the resources mentioned in this episode:

Learn more about the Water Quality Technology Program at Pellissippi State Community College

Reach out to Cristina for more information at or 865-694-6427.

Kevin Byrd – Workforce Development Coordinator, Tennessee Associraiton of Utility Districts

Cristina Carbajo (CAR BA HO) Program Coordinator and INstruction Water Quality Technology Program at Pellissippi State Community College

Misty Brown STEM Relationship  Manager with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network