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WV Water Workforce Survey

Men inspecting around hydrant

The Appalachian Community Technical Assistance and Training (ACTAT) Program launched the West Virginia Water Workforce Survey in July 2023 to solicit input from the state’s water workers about the greatest challenges and opportunities to the workforce. The survey collected data about four key topics:

1.    Operator demographics

2.    Current trends and challenges in operator recruitment

3.    Current trends and challenges in operator retention

4.    Utility management issues that may affect operator recruitment and retention

Key results for each topic are summarized briefly below.


Respondent Demographics

The anonymous, online survey generated 146 total responses, including 84 from operators and 62 from managers. The survey reveals a significant generational gap among water workers in the state, with approximately 92% of respondents aged 35 or above, indicating a pressing need to attract younger talent. Furthermore, only 12% of operators identified as female, highlighting gender disparities within the workforce.

Operator Recruitment

Over half of operators (53%) and managers (56%) expressed concerns about the adequacy of operator numbers to sustain utility operations. Key barriers that hinder the hiring of adequate operators cited by managers include a lack of qualified applicants and issues with pay rates and certification requirements. Managers indicated that the lack of qualified applicants reflects a lack of operator license, lack of experience, failure to pass a drug test, and failure to meet minimum education requirements. While some efforts are made to hire trainees and apprentices, 34% of managers do not currently offer such positions.

Operator Retention

A significant portion of operators (24%) and managers (26%) are currently eligible for retirement, with over half of operators (57%) and managers (53%) planning to retire within the next nine years. Overall, 72% of operators reported being happy at work, with benefits and work tasks being the highest rated factors contributing to workplace satisfaction. However, dissatisfaction with pay is prevalent, with 44% of operators expressing dissatisfaction with their pay. Operators earn an average hourly wage of $26.53, compared to an expected average of $32.36, indicating a gap between expectations and reality. Utilities reported substantial challenges with operator turnover, highlighting a need for targeted retention strategies. Operators ranked the highest priority retention strategies as (1) increased pay, (2) better benefits, and (3) creating incentive programs.

Other Issues for Utility Management

Operator certification processes in the state were investigated as a possible barrier to operator recruitment and retention, but results suggested that this is not a major barrier to operator advancement in the state. However, improving support for operator certification may represent a valuable opportunity to increase operator retention. Key operational challenges cited by survey respondents included aging infrastructure, difficulty hiring and retaining skilled staff, excessive inflow and infiltration or water loss, and inadequate utility rates to sustain operations.


The findings underscore the urgent need for proactive measures to address recruitment and retention challenges in the water and wastewater industry in West Virginia. Collaboration between utilities and stakeholders is crucial to ensure a sustainable and skilled workforce for the future.


Access the full report below to read about our findings in detail.

West Virginia Water Workforce Survey