water equity task force team on stage

Water Equity Task Force

How Milwaukee is Building Water Equity

Milwaukee positions itself as a water-centric city—a hub of innovation and investment in water technology and infrastructure, and an area rich in water resources that provide opportunities for recreation and well-being. Yet, Milwaukee’s water workforce does not reflect the diversity of its residents. To build a more equitable workforce, we must identify, understand, and address barriers to entry, particularly for people living in communities that face limited economic and social opportunities. 

The Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce was convened to explore pathways to a more equitable water future and inclusive workforce in Milwaukee. Its members represent a range of stakeholder interests—utilities, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, workforce development organizations, and educational institutions. 2018-2020 was spent investigating the factors that limit entry into the water workforce for members of historically marginalized communities and defining actions that can be taken to remove those barriers. This Milwaukee Water Equity Roadmap and the accompanying Needs Assessment are the outcomes of the Taskforce’s work. 

In 2018-2021, the Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce focused its efforts on equitable, living-wage employment as a priority for water equity. First, to better understand the barriers to equitable employment in Milwaukee’s water sector, Milwaukee Water Commons contracted with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development to undertake a comprehensive water sector Needs Assessment as part of the team process. National and local water sector research, interviews with selected stakeholders, and multiple community focus group discussions on barriers to living-wage employment in Milwaukee’s water sector augmented this assessment. The team also participated in monthly meetings, quarterly learning exchanges with the US Water Alliance’s seven Taskforce cities, and constant team communication and collaboration. The Water Equity Taskforce, Insights for the Water Sector report, features successes and learnings from each city's Water Equity Roadmaps, and insights for a collaborative approach to water equity.

What is "Water Equity"?

Water equity is about “just and fair inclusion,” when ALL people have a say in decisions that affect their lives. In the context of “water,” it means: 

  • Having access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water and wastewater services. 
  • Sharing in the economic, social, and environmental benefits of water systems. 
  • Are resilient in the face of floods, drought, and other climate risks.

“While Milwaukee is a water-centric city, our water workforce does not reflect the diversity of our residents. To build a more diverse workforce we are investing in and partnering with community-based workforce partners and other water sector employers -- there is no such thing as a “go it alone” approach when developing our future workforce.Kevin L. Shafer, P.E. Executive Director – MMSD

Workforce Equity

Workforce equity requires aligned initiatives and partners to develop a robust talent pipeline from underserved communities. It is critical to increase awareness at the youngest ages through water-related education about how water and wastewater systems play a role in public health and protecting and improving the environment. MMSD is working with a broad array of partners to build opportunities in our community for careers in the Milwaukee water sector.

  • MMSD's Fresh Coast Ambassador Program launched in 2018 and fosters the collaboration between Cream City Conservation and the Boys & Girls Club which includes providing high school students with work experience in green infrastructure.  Cream City Conservation and the Boys & Girls Club leverage their partnership with the local workforce development board, Employ Milwaukee, to connect young people to paid work experiences while providing career planning, support services, and culturally competent, social and emotional learning to ensure the young person can thrive and grow in the program.
  • In 2020 MMSD implemented “banning the box” on job applications—meaning that the applications no longer include questions about applicants’ criminal records. MMSD made the change after reviewing and removing policies that eliminate previously incarcerated individuals from the applicant pools for open positions. Having a period of incarceration does not disqualify a person’s skills, initiative, or humanity and often, previous crimes have no direct association with job requirements.
  •  Fresh Coast Fresh Start (Fresh Start) pilot program launched in 2021 with community partners, Cream City Conservation, Milwaukee Jobs Work, and Milwaukee County Parks to provide opportunities for those that are re-entering the community from incarceration or are under or unemployed. Fresh Start provides training on industry topics such as wastewater operations; conveyance construction; watercourse; and green infrastructure construction and vegetation establishment along with personal and professional development and wrap-around support services. The goal is to train adults to be workforce-ready to lead to job opportunities or apprenticeships.
  • In May 2021, MMSD, Milwaukee Water WorksVeolia Water Milwaukee, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted the first One Water, Our Water: Explore Milwaukee Water Jobs Fair. This event is an extension of the Equitable Water Future Roadmap to build water workforce equity in Milwaukee by focusing on fostering greater awareness of water sector careers among individuals, groups, communities, and organizations within Milwaukee. A second Water Jobs Fair is being planned for the fall of 2021.
  • Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) is defining new partnerships to build a stronger pipeline for potential future employees, with outreach starting in grade school and extending through colleges and universities. MWW has developed a youth apprenticeship program to provide high school students with experience working in the water distribution and machinery repair programs. Partnering with Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), MWW welcomes interns from the Environmental Health and Water Quality Technology Associate Degree program to gain experience working in MWW’s treatment plants and water quality laboratories. 

Water Equity Taskforce Cities: Atlanta, Buffalo, Camden, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Louisville, and Pittsburgh are participating cities. 

The Milwaukee Water Equity Taskforce recommends a call for stronger collaboration among all those in Milwaukee’s water sector and meaningful changes to workplace culture, policies, and practices. The Taskforce believes that advancing these recommendations will help ensure that the economic, environmental, and social benefits resulting from community investments in water are more equitably shared by all. 


Milwaukee Water Equity Task Force Partners

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employ milwaukee logo
greater milwaukee foundation logo
groundwork milwaukee logo
milwaukee county logo
milwaukee job works logo
milwaukee water commons
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century city logo
water equity task force pdf