California Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai speaking at the Roemer Filtration Facility in Rialto. Anthony Mendoza / Uplift + Empower

Breanna Reeves |

California Labor & Workforce Development Secretary Natalie Palugyai visited the West Valley Water District (WVWD) on Thursday to learn more about how IE Works, the recipient of a $1 million state grant, is building a stronger wastewater workforce in the Inland Empire.

“We put so much intention behind getting to programs like this and to setting these up, and I want to encourage that we continue that intentionality as we think about how we recruit folks from our communities to enter these training programs, how we recruit workers from our communities to enter these jobs,” said Secretary Palugyai during her visit. “And also how we train every day and how we provide support services, so that individuals can complete these programs successfully, and then move on to good jobs.”

Channing Hawkins, founder of IE Works and Board President of West Valley Water District (WVWD), California Labor & Workforce Development Secretary Natalie Palugyai and Gracie Torres, Board Vice President of the Western Municipal Water District during Secretary Palugyai’s visit to WVWD (Photo by Breanna Reeves).

Through a partnership with Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), IE Works was developed to create an equitable pipeline between water industry jobs and underrepresented communities. The partnership aims to recruit and train 100 job seekers in underrepresented areas of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and introduce opportunities regarding the water resources industry and educate them on the benefits of working in the field.

“Like many cities and towns across California, our region is rapidly growing. To meet this rapid population growth and rising water usage, we’re going to expand this facility to over 16 million gallons a day,” explained Channing Hawkins, founder of IE Works and Board President of West Valley Water District (WVWD).

“This expansion will provide our filtration facility with the capacity to support 170 prevailing wage jobs covered by a community workforce agreement, ensuring that we prioritize our local workforce. This facility is a major example of how increased regional water demands require continuing and growing investments.”

In order to develop a sustainable workforce, IE Works launched new internship and apprenticeship programs to strengthen jobs and train qualified employees in the water/wastewater industries. In September IE Works and IEUA welcomed three new interns in the Operations Division.

During Secretary Palugyai’s visit to the WVWD, IE Works interns were invited to speak about their experiences with the program and how they valued the resources that came from the partnership. Jonathan Lee said he received a lot of professional support and now hopes to move up through the ranks to become an operator.

Jonathan Lee, an IE Works intern, spoke about how the program supported him during Secretary Palugyai’s visit to the West Valley Water District (Photo by Breanna Reeves).

“The program has helped me a lot. I would have never gotten this far without them giving me advice and helping me with my resume, helping me with interviews (and) public speaking,” said Lee. “So, I do appreciate the fact that all you guys are out here to support this program, and hopefully, can branch out and do better things and bigger things.”

Sustaining, recruiting, and training workers in the industry has become more challenging in the water/wastewater industry. Last October, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that one-third of the water sector workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years.

Through the IEWorks program, up to 10 intern positions will be offered yearly with IEUA, but will be overseen, managed and partially funded by JVS.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.