GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Community College, the city of Grand Rapids and Bay College in Escanaba are getting about $500,000 from the federal government to address labor shortages in the water industry.

It will pay to introduce middle and high school students from neighborhoods with high unemployment to fresh water and utility jobs.

“Like water and sewer utilities across the nation, Grand Rapids is experiencing staffing shortages due to retirements and the lack of a diverse pool of qualified water professionals,” said Wayne Jernberg, the water system manager for the city of Grand Rapids. “We are confident that this partnership with GRCC will help to address our long-term workforce needs and encourage young people within the community to pursue a career in the water industry.”

GRCC plans to launch Water Weekends to share career information with students. There will be boot camp-style workshops, internships and job shadowing opportunities available.

Julie Parks, the interim dean for the school of workforce development at GRCC, says West Michigan is the perfect place to make this investment.

“With the climate change discussions that are going on and the conferences around the world, how do we keep our water safe and fresh? And Michigan, we have that advantage of having these Great Lakes here, so it’s even more important,” said Parks. “So we’re very happy to be a part of this collaboration with these organizations to give people in this community the opportunity to take these jobs.”

The federal government is giving out about $3.8 million in grants to similar programs across the country. 

“Workers at water and wastewater treatment utilities provide a service that is absolutely essential to public health, the environment and economic prosperity in their communities,” said Radhika Fox, the EPA assistant administrator for water. “The water sector is facing significant workforce challenges, and it is critical that EPA and its federal, state and local partners invest in the next generation of water professionals.”