H2O Pipeline Program Puts High School Students on a Promising Pathway to a Lifelong Career
The Orange County Board of County Commissioners recently honored the first group of students who successfully completed the H2O Pipeline Program. This initiative, forged through a partnership between Orange County Utilities, Orange County Public Schools, and the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association, creates a unique pathway for high school students to enter the water and wastewater industry directly after graduation.
Ed Torres, Director of Orange County Utilities, emphasized the critical need this groundbreaking initiative addresses. “With the retirement rate outpacing the recruitment rate, it is essential for us to cultivate a skilled workforce to maintain the uninterrupted provision of water and wastewater services. This program is a win-win since it seeks to bridge this workforce gap while offering an incredible opportunity for motivated high school students to pursue a rewarding career in the water and wastewater management field,” Torres said.
The program is appealing to students who are seeking alternatives to a traditional four-year college degree, providing them with an opportunity to gain the necessary skills and experience to become water or wastewater plant operators. Magali Colon, Orange County Utilities Plant Specialist, outlined the program’s impact, stating, “Through hands-on training and classroom instruction, these students have the skills and knowledge needed to excel as future wastewater plant operators. This is an extraordinary opportunity for these students to embark on a fulfilling career straight out of high school.”
In the program’s inaugural year at University High School, 10 students studied and participated in hands-on training to become wastewater treatment plant operators. Every student passed the rigorous California State University Sacramento Exam which makes them eligible to sit for Florida’s Wastewater Class C Exam. Additionally, all the students who applied to Orange County Utilities were accepted into an apprenticeship program. Over the summer, these students will gain practical experience by working at the Eastern Water Reclamation Facility. This work will contribute towards the 2,080 hours of industry experience required for their licensure.
Jessica Green, Program Manager, spoke about the personal growth of the students as well. “It has been inspiring to witness the transformation in our students as they embrace this unique pathway to the wastewater management field. We have seen their confidence soar, their expertise expand, and their dedication to the industry grow,” Green explained.
Moreover, the students’ satisfaction and enthusiasm have led them to become advocates, actively recruiting their peers for the upcoming year. The program’s collaborative efforts between agencies have fostered a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, ensuring ongoing success for the H2O Pipeline Program. As the program continues into its second year, it has the potential to flood the pipeline with new talent, offering an alternative pathway to a skilled career and helping to secure the future of the industry.