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