Mother Lode Job Training officials are seeking to fill classes at The Water School, part of the Innovation Lab in Sonora, to train certified water treatment plant operators, a field they believe will see an increase in well-paying jobs in coming years.

The program is being offered in a partnership with the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.

Three years ago, the online Occupational Information Network, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, projected 8 percent growth in the California jobs market for water operators, from 2014 to 2024, said Vicki Long, manager of Mother Lode Job Training in Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

As of Friday afternoon, the CareerOneStop Credentials Center sponsored by the Department of Labor listed 23 openings for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators in California.

Number crunchers with the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in October projected a 3 percent decline in jobs for water operators nationwide, from 2016 to 2026, Dave Thoeny, executive director for Mother Lode Job Training and the Workforce Development Board, said.

Our assessment is that the past is not indicative of the future, as many veteran water professionals are projected to age out in the next few years resulting in a lift to the growth trajectory,” Thoeny said.

Asked for statistics or estimates to support this optimism, Thoeny, Long and Steve Christianson, executive director of The Water School founded in 2011, said the information is anecdotal.

Asked if Mother Lode Job Training has any graduates who are already water operators, Thoeny and Long responded in detail.

“We recently administered a water professional grant resulting in 15 participants trained, with 12 placed in on-job training programs or work experience programs at water companies in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties,” Thoeny said.

The $150,000 grant program was in place the past 12 to 18 months, and of the 12 trainees who were placed in job-work programs, eight got hired, seven with local water companies and one with Sierra Pacific Industries, Long said.

Asked how much those eight professionals are now earning, Long said they make $15.68 an hour to $25.25 an hour. That translates to annual salaries of $32,614 to $52,520 annually.

Asked how much the program costs, Long shared a tuition sheet and emphasized that Mother Lode Job Training is partnering with The Water School to provide subsidized tuition for eligible applicants.

She later followed up and said the program cost per trainee will be $6,800, and the program is one year long.

“If an individual is eligible for our funding, Mother Lode Job Training will pay for part or all of their tuition,” Long said.

Staff at Mother Lode Job Training say classes start Dec. 9.

Christianson said The Water School program will offer options of in-class attendance in Sonora, remote study or a combination of the two. Students can take four different state water operator exams over 12 months.

Thoeny said Mother Lode Job Training has been around since 1983, and the agency annually serves 3,000 to 4,000 job seekers.

“We estimate we place about 500 annually in paying jobs,” Thoeny said.

Mother Lode Job Training is federally funded by the Department of Labor’s Employment &

Training Administration.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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