Hillsborough County approves funds to train those interested in public utility jobs

Utility company leaders said they've noticed a skills gap as workers retire or move on, so Hillsborough County commissioners approved a new training program to help fill in what’s missing.

"Majority of those positions don't have a large pipeline of candidates that are coming in to fill those vacancies," said Ken Jones, the workforce programs manager in Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department.

This week, Hillsborough County commissioners approved $500,000 for utility worker training, partnering with Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough Community College.

"They're being trained by the experts that are doing the work. So those are some of the things that can really make a difference for our students that come to get a certificate or to earn a credential that will allow them to get a really good paying job in the Tampa Bay workforce," said Rich Senker, the vice president for academic affairs at Hillsborough Community College.

Students in the program can earn certifications and get training for wide-ranging jobs, including traffic control operations, wastewater operators, and maintenance, to fill the need in the private and public sectors.

"The demographics are so dismal for us right now in combination with the growth in our area that that opportunity to reach out and touch with this proposed program is fabulous," said Beth Schinella, the Hillsborough County Water Resources Department director.

Schinella said her department has job opportunities for utility plant operators, wastewater operators, and utility maintenance operators. She explained the impact the current skills gap has on projects.

"So we have a slimmer staff, so to speak. It puts more burden on those workers. Our ability to expand that workforce is critical," said Schinella.

Starting the pipeline for workers will take a few months, and program organizers said they are not only focused on education.

"That's the second piece of it… How do we help recruit individuals to come into those career fields? This will be a platform for them to do that," said Jones. "And then it also serves as a platform to provide that annual and continuing educational credits that individuals in those career fields will need."

Jones said the county will figure out the specifics for the program in the next couple of months, and they hope to start enrolling later next year.