Jeramey Jannene

$2 Million Grant Will Train Minorities, Help Replace Lead Laterals

Federal infrastructure funds help Milwaukee Water Works expand, diversify workforce.

By - May 31st, 2022 04:40 pm
Employ Milwaukee CEO Chytania Brown, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, MWW supervisor Syreeta Woodly, Mayor Cavalier Johnson and MWW Acting Superintendent Patrick Pauly. Photo from Sen. Baldwin's Office.

Employ Milwaukee CEO Chytania Brown, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, MWW supervisor Syreeta Woodly, Mayor Cavalier Johnson and MWW Acting Superintendent Patrick Pauly. Photo from Sen. Baldwin’s Office.

The Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) is receiving support from the federal government in its quest to ramp up the replacement of lead service lines and expand and diversify its workforce. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined city officials Tuesday afternoon to announce a $2 million grant at the Department of Public Works field operations facility, 3850 N. 35th St.

“One of our top priorities right now is to recruit people to careers in the water sector, and as part of that, we’re focused on building a workforce that reflects the diversity of Milwaukee. This $2 million grant and the partnership with Employ Milwaukee will help us address these challenges: The funding that Senator Baldwin secured will go directly to recruiting and developing individuals for careers in the water sector,” said acting MWW Superintendent Patrick Pauly in a statement.

Employ Milwaukee and the city-owned water utility are aiming to attract and train new workers through a career exploration program for high school students and a job training program for low-income and underrepresented individuals. According to a federal grant request, the partners will specifically conduct training for such positions as water meter technicians, water repair workers, engineering technicians and construction laborers. “Tutoring and wraparound supportive services will be provided to support trainee success. Trainees will receive job readiness training in a trauma-informed care service delivery model,” says the request.

Job opportunities for those in the program won’t be limited just to the Milwaukee Water Works. The partners will also work with other area water utilities. Private contractors, many of which perform work for MWW, could also hire individuals from the program.

“MWW and regional contractors need skilled workers for current and future openings at all levels, particularly at the entry and middle skill levels,” says the grant request. Current pay for the positions is approximately $18 per hour plus benefits. Approximately 50% of the current workers are eligible for retirement in the next decade according to the grant request.

Currently, according to MWW data, less than 20% of members of the workforce are people of color. The Wisconsin Policy Forum granted MWW an award in 2021 for its work partnership with the US Water Alliance to develop and foster a more “equitable, inclusive and diverse water workforce.”

“We all know, infrastructure doesn’t rebuild itself—we need more trained and skilled workers to do it and that is why I worked to deliver federal funding for this partnership between Employ Milwaukee and Milwaukee Water Works,” said Baldwin in a statement. “This federal investment, which was also signed into law by the President, will provide employment and job training services for low-income and underrepresented job seekers. It will strengthen the workforce of pipefitters, plumbers and water utility professionals and it will improve the career outcomes for workers in Milwaukee.”

The city is currently on an approximately 70-year pace to replace all of its lead laterals (service lines), a contributor to lead poisoning alongside lead paint. But it could cut that timeline if new funding and workers to perform the replacements are available.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Milwaukee in January to tout the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and how it would provide more funding to replace lead laterals. A total of $48 million is expected to be allocated to Wisconsin in the next year for the work and divided between its cities.

Pauly, in March, warned that the city was reaching a “tipping point” with its water workforce and was increasingly paying the price for it by having to hire more contractors. “We have slowly lost those long-tenured employees over these ten years, which has led to a significant amount of instability,” said the acting superintendent during a discussion about city pay rates.

Categories: Health, Weekly

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